A remarkable journey of service, leadership and academic excellence - Thomas Swinburn

Date: 03 Jul 2024

Dilworth Old Boy Thomas Swinburn, from the Class of 2016, returned to the school this year as our special guest speaker for Founder’s Day, prompting us to catch up with him and delve into his remarkable journey of service, leadership and academic excellence.

By the end of 2024, Thomas will have earned two degrees from the University of Auckland Waipapa Taumata Rau – a Bachelor of Medical Science (Honours) and a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery MBChB – and will then proudly hold the title of Dr Thomas Swinburn.

His journey to becoming a doctor is marked by a series of outstanding achievements, starting from his days at Dilworth, where he was named Dux. Throughout his tertiary education, he received accolades such as the Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Asia and the Kupe Leadership Scholarship, alongside recognition from the government for his contribution during the pandemic through the COVID-19 Response Recognition Award.

Not confined to medicine, Thomas has also made his mark as a leader, serving as president of both the Auckland University Medical Students’ Association and the New Zealand Medical Students’ Association. Last year, he clinched the International Balint Federation's Ascona writing prize for his insightful essay on the humanitarian aspects of the doctor-patient relationship.

Thomas's journey has not been solely academic; he’s actively sought opportunities to broaden his horizons and expand his worldview throughout his education. From a gap year at Whitgift School in London to participating in a Young Ambassador programme with the French Embassy, he has taken every opportunity presented and willingly embraced diverse, real-world (and sometimes surreal) experiences. He remembers packing to go to France as a Year 13 student while his peers were all sitting their mock exams.

His medical studies took him to immersive training in Te Tai Tokerau Northland and internships in Mumbai, India. They will soon take him to Nepal, where he is looking forward to spending time trekking in the mountains in his downtime, all as part of achieving a sense of personal balance.

Reflecting on his time at Dilworth, Thomas acknowledges the foundational life skills and values instilled by the boarding school experience - like learning to cook and clean a bathroom while at the rural campus and getting on with people from all walks of life. “Being there I met a diverse group of people, which has made me comfortable finding common ground with everyone,” he explains.

Dilworth also provided a platform from which he could spring, and he remains grateful for the support received, including the leavers support grant and the Staples Education Foundation (SEF) scholarship. Thomas says, “One of my proudest moments will be writing a thank you letter to Haydn Staples (SEF Founder) signed by ‘Dr Swinburn’. While he can’t pay back all the opportunities he’s had, he is dedicated to paying it forward through his role as a Staples buddy by mentoring junior medical students and supporting any Dilworth students aspiring to go into medicine.

Looking ahead, Thomas aspires to a career in public health academia or policy, mindful of maintaining a balanced life amidst the demands of medicine. “With medicine, I signed up to a vocation and a culture,” he explains, “and I often think about how I can keep my world broad. I want to look back on a life well lived.”  

His advice to current Dilworth students echoes his journey: “Believe in yourself, broaden your thinking. Seek advice, but ultimately chart your own path”.