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Public health career possibilities unrestricted by COVID

Published 9 Dec, 2020  ·  3-minute read

At a time when the world’s attention has been seemingly distilled into one curt word – COVID – the great contradiction is that pathways for postgraduate health research have grown exponentially.

While the global pandemic continues to be a ubiquitous consideration, it has simultaneously emphasised just how diverse the various research arms of public health can be.

Head of School at UQ’s School of Public Health, Professor Elizabeth Eakin constantly marvels at the array of specialisations that interconnect on the topic.

“People trained in public health go into careers as vast as perhaps any other field,” Professor Eakin says.

“We have behavioural scientists, medically trained people, epidemiologists, veterinarians, exercise psychologists, dieticians and social scientists. The list goes on.

“The people who come into public health are as multi-faceted as the careers that a public health degree spawns. The diversity of specialisations is enormous.

“Really, in the School of Public Health, we’re looking to turn out the next generation of public health leaders – people who are going to go out and work in community settings, in non-government organisations (NGOs), in clinical and medical settings, hospitals and schools.

“There probably isn’t a setting where public health doesn’t have some relevance.”

While one of the buzz topics for 2020 has been epidemiology, a potential postgraduate student in public health is just as likely to find opportunities to explore offshoots of this field.

If curiosity and a will to positively influence the world are qualities that a student possesses, they could end up pursuing innumerable studies about tangential topics.

Associate Professor Linda Selvey has been at UQ since 2017 and her overriding passion is about protecting human health from the impacts of climate change.

Before she arrived at the University, she had worked in several senior positions for Queensland Health, including as the executive director for Population Health Queensland, and also as chief executive of Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

“A day in my life as executive director of public health included dealing with water authorities, clinicians, non-government organisations…a whole range of different people in one day,” Dr Selvey says.

“Having the skills to be able to do that and be able to talk in their language – and be advocates for public health in all of that – is already important, but will become even more important in the future.

“The capacity and ability to work across disciplines with people from a whole range of different knowledge bases and with a whole range of decision-making capabilities is not only necessary, but quite invigorating.

“In my own career, public health has been what I’ve found most satisfying.”

An international public health specialist and clinical academic, Professor Charles Gilks also works for the UQ School of Public Health.

Professor Gilks was prominent in the global effort to limit the impact of HIV/AIDS and has firsthand knowledge of how pandemics require response and coordination from networks of people with the correct skills.

“I’d like to emphasise that the entry ticket to all of the United Nations (UN) agencies, if you are interested in a career there, is via a Master of Public Health (MPH),” Professor Gilks says.

“Having worked for 10 years within the World Health Organization, I can tell you that involvement also comes about through having an MPH.

“It’s the same for the World Food Programme. If you’re involved in providing nutrition support or you’re looking at the epidemic of obesity at the same time as nutrition…they’re looking for Master of Public Health graduates.

“Not only that, but they’re looking for Master of Public Health graduates from good schools that have a good reputation. And we know UQ has an outstanding global reputation globally, based on the strength of our research as well as the world-changing endeavours of our graduates.”

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