From IV treatments to the Ivy League, Adam Kamradt-Scott's career in nursing, politics and academia has been underpinned by an unwavering commitment to lifelong learning that, in recent years, included postgraduate law study at The Australian National University (ANU).
Adam Kamradt-Scott isn’t your typical Master of Laws graduate. He doesn’t come from a legal background, nor are there any lawyers in his family.
However, he does possess a unique trait that served him well throughout law school: the ability to solve complex problems.
It was a skill he mastered more than 30 years ago in very different setting as a registered nurse at Royal Brisbane Hospital, where he administered clinical care to patients in unpredictable, high-pressure situations.
While the Bachelor of Nursing graduate who grew up in Yeppoon, Central Queensland was eager to help others, he gradually developed an unshakeable desire to learn more.
“I was out the back in the treatment room one shift when I made the decision to go back to uni,” he recalled.
“I had approached my university where I’d done my nursing degree to ask if I could do a Master’s in International Relations. Their reaction was no because it was too far removed from nursing, so I started over because I really wanted to do it.”
‘Starting over’ meant enrolling in another Bachelor’s degree, in International Relations and Business, although after just 18 months he was accepted into the Master of Arts in International Studies in recognition of his outstanding grades, all while working night duty to support himself.
PhD, politics and international law
After graduating with his Master’s degree, Adam received two scholarships to undertake further study again – this time as a PhD candidate at Aberystwyth University in Wales.
There, he drew on his background in public health and international relations to analyse the World Health Organization’s (WHO) management of the severe acute respiratory system (SARS) outbreak.
“I also had the opportunity to be part of the Australian delegation involved in negotiating the International Health Regulations in 2004-05. That gave me a taste of international law and also seeing diplomatic negotiations,” he said.
However, one of the most formative experiences of his PhD studies came during his first year when he attended a series of guest lectures by eminent international law scholar Thomas Franck, a late professor of law at New York University and judge with the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
“As international relations doctoral students, we were encouraged to attend and over the course of the first evening I became enthralled by his lecture, which was an analysis of state sovereignty using the example of one of the cases he had presided over – a territorial dispute between Indonesia and Malaysia,” Adam recalled.
“His command of the law, combined with his serving as a judge for the ICJ, inspired me. I remember thinking at the time that if I was ever to become an academic, it would be someone like Thomas Franck who spanned the practitioner-and-academic divide.”
After completing his PhD in 2007, Adam reunited with his Master’s supervisor, the late Dr Russell Trood, who by then was in the third year of his term as a Senator. After a successful stint as a political adviser and with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Adam returned to university – this time as an academic; first at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and later at the University of Sydney, where his research and teaching covered global health security and international relations for nearly a decade.
“In that time, I realised my research was increasingly touching on international law. While I was at the University of Sydney, I was awarded a fellowship that allowed me to go to Geneva for five months to work with the WHO Secretariat within the International Health Regulations division,” said Adam, whose research examined methods to increase compliance with regulations.
“I had a taste of law when I was doing my PhD because it included a focus on the WHO’s constitutional powers, and then working as a political adviser I was always reviewing legislation even though I’d never had any legal training. So I decided, ‘Let’s do it!’”
A commitment to lifelong learning
It was this ‘taste’ of law that inspired Adam to enrol in a Graduate Certificate of Law at ANU in 2018 before transitioning into the Master of Laws (LLM), in which he specialised in International Law. The program appealed to him because of its intensive courses and admission of students without an undergraduate degree in law.
“For me, I just wanted to know when I was doing research I wasn’t missing key issues. That was my motivating factor for doing my LLM,” Adam said.
“As an emergency nurse, you’re a jack of all trades and master of none. You need to know a little bit of every possibility, but you’re not a specialist in the way a cardiac nurse is with the heart or so on. As a consequence, I really wanted to have the ability and confidence to speak about a subject with expertise.”
Following the outbreak of COVID-19, Adam’s expertise on global health governance was in high demand. He worked as a consultant for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in addition to the World Bank.
All the while he continued to make steady progress with his LLM studies, the latter part occurring during his professorship at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. It was there that he completed his favourite course, International Law of the Environment (LAWS6502), convened by Associate Professor Jonathan Liljeblad.
“I wasn’t sure there would be enough (in the course) to inspire me personally, but as it turned out when I got into the subject I found that environmental law related to things like genetic sequencing,” Adam said.
“I found it really pertinent to the work I was doing and I ended up doing an assignment on genetic sequencing and data because it’s an area that requires so much work.”
In May 2023, Adam commenced his current appointment as the Dr Jiang Yanyong Visiting Professor of Global Health Security at Harvard University – aptly named after the Chinese physician and whistleblower of the SARS cover-up that he researched 20 years ago for his PhD dissertation.
Now focused on contributing to Harvard University’s Master of Public Health program, Adam still has a keen eye on his research and looks forward to applying his legal knowledge to future scholarship.
“There is something to doing a structured program (such as an LLM) where, through progressive exposure, you gain knowledge. If you’re off doing it by yourself, you don’t know what you’re missing,” he said.
“As academics, we do the job we do because we’re inquisitive; we want to understand the world and why it ticks the way it does. It’s been great doing my Master of Laws at a time when international negotiations in global health have been going on.
“I’ve been able to utilise the knowledge I’ve acquired in classes immediately to then advise governments. I’m really glad that I’ve gained that knowledge because it’s made me, hopefully, a better academic,” he added.
Words and photo by Tom Fearon/ANU