Dr Daniel Nour, newly crowned Young Australian of the Year, says his free mobile health service for Sydney’s homeless might never have become a reality without the inspiration provided by Trinity.
The 26-year-old medic, whose award was presented in Canberra by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, works full-time at Royal North Shore Hospital but on top of that devotes the same commitment every week to his passion project, Street Side Medics.
The not-for-profit operates two vans which take GPs and other health professionals to existing food services and homeless shelters three nights a week in order to bring health care to the most vulnerable.
Since founding the service last August, the Class of 2013 graduate has watched it grow to a staff of 220, more than half of them of them doctors. Every one is a volunteer.
Chair of the National Australia Day Council, Danielle Roche, said Dr Nour’s work had helped ensure vulnerable people can receive medical care.
“Dr Daniel Nour and Street Side Medics work to make sure no Australian gets left behind, providing vital medical care and lifesaving treatment to those experiencing homelessness and who might otherwise fall through the cracks,” she said.
In accepting his award, Dr Nour said many homeless Australians were “suffering in silence”.
“Many die of conditions which could be treated and avoid interventions which could have improved quality of life,” he said.
“I have seen 50-year-olds like Peter die of heart failure, struggling for a breath in the cold night air. I have seen people like 40-year-old Eddie, living with maggots in his wounds. I have seen people like Neil, a 29-year-old type 1 diabetic who is suffering from irreparable damage due to being unable to afford his insulin.”
Dr Nour credited Trinity with nurturing his social conscience and influencing the values which have helped him to help so many of Sydney’s neediest people.
“The School has had a big impact on me as a person. It’s absolutely correct to say that without Trinity, I really question whether something like this would have happened,” he told Trinity News.
“Trinity helped shape the values and beliefs that I have carried through to Street Side Medics.
“It has a great social conscience as a school, and I think its values rubbed off on me in an inspirational way.
“It wasn’t about being the biggest and the best, but being as good as you can be to improve society as a whole.”
He said Trinity was without peer when it came to taking a holistic approach to education.
“It has a unique way of dealing with each student. It seriously stresses the importance of being well-rounded, developing social skills and business acumen, and thinking outside the box.
“I was a rough diamond – well, I don’t like to call myself a diamond – but it softened all of my rough edges and turned me into the man I am today.
“I was quite cheeky; I talked a lot and got in trouble a lot, so I got a lot of detentions.”
Brad Wirth, now Director of Campus Administration, taught him chemistry and was one of the teachers who “helped keep me on the straight and narrow”.
Dr Nour grew up in a Christian family, saying: “My faith is a big part of me, and it was strengthened at Trinity.”
While still a student at Trinity, he volunteered for a homeless food service called COCOS, run by his church, The Coptic Orthodox Christian Church at Kingsgrove.
He enjoyed sports including basketball, rugby and table tennis at school, although he was more academically oriented. He won a coveted All Rounders Award in Year 12 for achieving the highest band in every subject before going on to study medicine at James Cook University in Queensland.
The catalyst for Street Side Medics came one day in London, where Dr Nour had undertaken an elective at the Imperial College, when he went to the aid of a homeless man having a seizure.
The man’s friends indicated he didn’t drink or use drugs, but had had several seizures over the previous months.
“I remember thinking, why hasn’t anyone taken him to see a doctor? And this one (homeless) lady, I’ll never forget her face, said, ‘Daniel, the NHS barely cares about you, let alone us’.
“That really hit a soft spot with me; it really upset me. I did my research hoping that this was not an issue in Sydney, but I was surprised to find out it was. There were too many barriers in the way of getting vulnerable people to health care. The only way was to take health care to them.”
Street Side Medics has a policy of turning no-one away. There are two teams of volunteers. The team outside the van usually consists of a social worker, physiotherapist, dietician and other general volunteers, who approach individuals to see if they have any health issues. Inside the van, there is a GP and a nurse.
Dr Nour says trust and respect underpin the whole service. “All of the staff come because they want to be there, and because they care. And that translates into the way they communicate with the patients.”
He cites one of his favourite sayings, from Confucius: Those who say they can, and those who say they can’t, are both right.
“Trinity taught me to have belief in myself,” he said.
“Even today I often question myself and suffer from impostor syndrome. I wake up and think, ‘Am I really a doctor?’
“And then you just get on and do what you do. With passion, you can do anything.”