Career Profile – Joanna Schwarzman

Joanna Schwarzman

PhD student

Degree: Master of Public Health

Graduated: 2013

Please describe your public health career.

I initially studied physio and as a new graduate I moved to the Northern Territory and worked in a hospital as a physio for a couple of years. My experience there really sparked my interest in public health. Addressing the underlying social determinants of health are incredibly important to effective prevention, and I wanted to be a part of that. I enrolled in an MPH by distance, and simultaneously took on a new job travelling out to remote Aboriginal communities.

After graduating, I asked a few colleagues to keep an eye out for new opportunities and sure enough one came up with an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation. (See below.)

What sort of research are you working on now?

I’m looking at factors that influence evaluation of health promotion and disease prevention programs. Things like workforce characteristics, organisational structure, political and funding systems. Understanding this will help us plan, evaluate and ultimately deliver more effective programs.

What have you enjoyed about your public health career to date?

I love the collaborative aspect on a couple of levels. Firstly, it’s a field filled with people who are passionate and motivated to improve healthcare for all. Secondly, public health is about all about population level research and interventions, so you can effect change on a large scale, rather than just the individual in front of you.

How did you get your first job after graduating with your MPH?

I asked friends and colleagues to keep an eye out for new challenges that might suit me, and someone forwarded me the job ad whilst I was on holidays! So I guess the important thing there is actually networking.

What was that first job?

I was an Indigenous Health Project Officer supporting the implementation of the National Indigenous Chronic Disease package. One aspect of the package was to recruit and train a brand new chronic disease prevention workforce. My role involved a lot of stakeholder engagement, contacting Aboriginal Primary Health services, from CEOs through to healthcare workers. I often visited services in remote communities. I helped facilitate access to suitable training and support to health workers, and worked with interstate colleagues to promote and advocate support for this workforce, as well as provide feedback on progress to the Federal Government. It involved attending a lot of meetings and conferences around Australia.

What advice would you give to students in their final year of a public health degree?

Get involved. Talk to people – colleagues, lecturers, guest lecturers, friends. And join committees to meet influencers and get your own name out there. Shortlist the organisations you’d really like to work for, and start scrutinising their job ads to prepare. And spend time thinking about what transferable skills you have. Public health is such a huge field, and MPH gives you skills that can easily transfer to different clinical and non-clinical domains.