At the recent Australian Lung Cancer Conference, PhD candidate Nathan Harrison presented important new research on lung cancer screening and smoking. We asked Nathan about what inspired this research, and learned about his other role as a Senior Research Officer working on alcohol addiction.
What is your role at Flinders?
I’m about seven months into my life as a Flinders PhD student. My PhD is in public health and implementation science, specifically focused on lung cancer screening, smoking and stigma. I’ve also been a part of the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA) for about four years, where I now work as a Senior Research Officer. NCETA is a partnership between Flinders University and the Commonwealth Department of Health, and one of the key national research centres into alcohol and other drugs, with a key focus on workforce development. I contribute to NCETA’s prevention and early intervention research, especially in public health messaging to reduce alcohol supply.
Describe your research into lung cancer screening
A recent Cancer Australia enquiry showed that in the first 10 years of having a targeted lung cancer screening program, more than 12,000 deaths would be prevented. Offering smoking cessation support to people is recognised as an integral part of a lung cancer screening program. My research aims to understand how we can implement lung cancer screening in Australia and most effectively integrate this smoking cessation support, while ensuring lung cancer is not (further) stigmatised.
Because there is currently no national program in Australia, my research will help to provide vital information about the best strategies to embed smoking cessation support from the start of a potential program. So far, this has involved seeking and analysing in-depth interviews with Australian experts, and reviewing examples of smoking cessation support from overseas. I also get the privilege of working with really inspiring supervisors – Professor Billie Bonevski and Professor Jacquie Bowden at Flinders, plus Associate Professor Nicole Rankin and her lung cancer screening team at the University of Melbourne and Professor Christine Paul at the University of Newcastle.
What motivated you to get into the field?
I started studying psychology (with a little bit of public health along the way) because I was really interested in mental health care. But my ‘a-ha’ moment came during a third-year undergraduate health psychology lecture, when I realised the importance of applying what we know from behavioural science to the area of cancer prevention. This focused on Flinders-led research from 2007, and the idea that before sending out a bowel cancer screening kit in the post, an ‘advance notification’ letter that was sent two weeks earlier could increase the number of people who completed and returned their screening test. Something as simple as a letter in the post translated to lives saved and a significant population health benefit.
This led me to do a summer research placement at Cancer Council SA, an Honours psychology year testing out cancer support information, and then work within a cancer and behavioural science team at Flinders in 2016.
What inspires your work?
I’m very aware of all those affected by cancer, especially the people we’ve lost to this disease and also the incredible cancer advocates in our communities. Many of these people who have shaped my thinking have also emphasised the importance of good evidence to impact policy and practice, which certainly led me to do research work in the first place and then PhD enrolment more recently.
Where is your favourite holiday destination?
I’ve been lucky enough to see and experience some amazing places overseas – and I’m very often thinking of ways to get back and visit Taiwan, Iceland, Japan and Georgia once again. I repeatedly bring this up in conversations with just about anyone who will listen! Locally, I enjoy spending time with my family in Victor Harbor and surrounds. No trip is complete without a bit of a trail run along the Heysen Trail stretch that goes towards Waitpinga. Also, the lookout near Kings Beach always makes me feel like I’m on holiday, no matter how long I’m actually there.