Get to know your College alumni: Karen Beardsmore

Karen Beardsmore (Graduate Diploma Chronic Condition Management, Master of Public Health)

Currently employed with WA Country Health Service as Chronic Conditions Coordinator

What led you to study Chronic Condition Management at Flinders University? I had been working with a colleague who had used the Flinders Program and we had incorporated the program into a new virtual chronic condition care coordination service called Health Navigator. This sparked my passion as I saw the results for people in the Wheatbelt who had been referred to Health Navigator.

I then applied for a scholarship from WA Country Health Service (WACHS) to complete the Graduate Diploma in Chronic Conditions Management with Flinders. At the end of my Diploma, I decided I might as well go on to complete a Master of Public Health as many of my subjects were credited to the Master degree.

How does your Flinders Master of Public Health degree support the work you are now doing? My current roles as Coordinator of Chronic Conditions for the WACHS Wheatbelt and as Senior Project Officer WACHS Chronic Conditions Program both have a strategic focus.

My Master of Public Health has meant that I think critically about the strategies, think more about evaluation and research and am recognised for my knowledge of chronic conditions and the Flinders Chronic Conditions Program.

We are currently training and rolling the Flinders Chronic Condition Management Program out across the state of WA. I am an accredited Flinders Program trainer, which means I train people in the Flinders Chronic Conditions Management Program across WA. I also do some clinical coordination and use the Flinders Chronic Conditions Program with my clients.

How did your Flinders degrees prepare you for your current role? I was already in the role of chronic conditions coordinator and project officer, so it has enhanced my role further and given me tools to use during my work.

What is your favourite memory from your time at Flinders? I did my whole Master degree online but had the opportunity to come to the Bedford Park campus for a Flinders Chronic Conditions Management Trainers Workshop.

I was able to meet and talk with the lecturers like Andrea Morello (I had already met Andrea in WA), Professor Sharon Lawn and Professor Malcolm Battersby and other people from across Australia in person. I thoroughly enjoyed the unit on Aboriginal Culture as I had previously managed an Aboriginal Health team. I have many memories of different assignments I had to do and would ask my colleagues at work to be my subjects. It cost me a lot of cakes!

Briefly describe your career pathway and your current responsibilities. I started out as an acute dietitian working in the renal unit of Royal Perth Hospital. We moved to the Wheatbelt to bring up our children and I started working as a community dietitian and then became a diabetes educator.

I then moved to the Public Health Unit to become the Chronic Conditions Coordinator, which at that time was mostly a strategic role. From there I worked as the first manager of the Wheatbelt Aboriginal Health Service: it was a steep learning curve about the social and cultural determinants of health. I subsequently went on to a project officer position to work on integration of acute and primary health services which is where my passion for chronic conditions started with the Health Navigator project.

My current role includes clinical care coordination for people with long term lung conditions, diabetes and heart disease across the Wheatbelt, working to improve the service delivery of chronic conditions, services across the Wheatbelt and the state and training people in the Flinders Program. I work in an area of 115,000 km2!

What has been the greatest accomplishment of your career? Three things stand out:

  • Winning, along with my colleagues, the nominated category of Improving Service Delivery for the WA Health Awards in 2016 for the Health Navigator Chronic Conditions Program
  • Being awarded the Marwick-Reece Award from Flinders Behavioural Health in 2019 for Excellence in Flinders Program implementation to practice
  • Finishing my Master of Public Health at the tender age of 57

What advice do you have for someone contemplating a career in Behavioural Health? I have worked in behavioural health for 36 years and wish I knew at the beginning what I know now!

Behavioural health is rewarding and satisfying. But it is also tiring. It’s vital that you are able to look after yourself mentally and physically.

Above all, be person centred and keep an open mind.

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