Student Profile: Kate Armstrong

1. What is your background?

I graduated from medical school in 1992 and then a few years later started working as a doctor at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead (CHW) in NSW. I had a long term goal of working in Indigenous health, and at the time a mentor told me that if I wanted to do this I should get some experience in child health, obstetrics or emergency medicine. So, I completed a Diploma in Child Health at CHW and began working more in emergency medicine.

At this stage I still wasn’t sure which specialty I would end up in and decided to also do a Master of Public Health course (through Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin), where I gained some valuable research skills. Shortly after this my family and I moved to Central Australia where I spent 18 months working in two remote communities as a GP. I really enjoyed GP work, because you get to know people over a long period of time, and this was really rewarding.

2. Can you outline the way in which CLAN, the not for profit organization you founded, came about?

After several years, although my family and I loved living in Central Australia, there came a time where we needed to move back to the city for various reasons. When we were back living in the city I became aware of the inequitable situation for children living with CAH (Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia) in Vietnam. We had a family member who was born with CAH and with regular treatment he was living a perfectly happy life, but children in Vietnam were not receiving the same level of care, and were becoming disabled or dying. I think there were only about 100 kids there alive with the condition at the time. It was then that I became really passionate about this inequity. It was just wrong.

So using my MPH research skills I went to Vietnam and did a basic needs analysis of the children and families there. I did a ‘but why?’ analysis on the results of the survey and there were five things that the families of these children wanted including: affordable access to medicine and equipment; education, research and advocacy; the best medical care they could get; a strong community/support group; and not to be bankrupt or financially independent. So these areas became the basis for CLAN (Caring & Living As Neighbours).  This is also when I decided to persue further postgraduate study to back up my work on this topic and began a DrPH within the Discipline of Public Health at Flinders University.

CLAN is a not for profit organisation that is ‘dedicated to the dream that all children living with chronic health conditions in resource-poor countries of the world will enjoy a quality of life on par with that of their neighbours’ children in wealthier countries. CLAN has spent many years working in a high level advocacy role, encouraging WHO, UNICEF and others to bring about change for these children and their families, as well as on the ground in grassroots projects to ensure children in countries are receiving the support and medical care they need.

For more information on CLAN please visit www.clanchildhealth.org

3. What drew you to the DrPH within the Discipline of Public Health at Flinders University?

I was working for CLAN and remember when I first saw the Social Determinants of Health (SDH) Commission report and was blown away. I knew that if I wanted to make a real difference with CLAN it needed to have more academic rigour and focus on the SDH. So, I found this course, which I knew had a focus on SDH, and enrolled. I studied externally and came along to the two-week intensives, which worked really well for me. It was great to meet such a diverse range of people from with a variety of professional backgrounds. I even met up with an old friend who I had no idea was doing the same course until the day we started our first intensive, so that was a really lovely surprise.

4. What have been the highlights of your study?

The DrPH has broadened my mind in many ways but it has especially allowed me to move from a focus on the medical model of health to explore in more detail the power of policy in influencing health outcomes. It has made me realize just how complex, and political, health policy is.

5. Has your study helped your work?

Yes, there is no question about that. What I love about the DrPH is that I have been able to bring what I am passionate about and explore that through the assignments.  For example, for one of the assignments I had to analyse a policy and I chose newborn screening as my topic. I have to say that since then the advocacy work I have been involved with internationally has been informed by the work I did in this course. One of the specific things I am encouraged by is the inclusion of a life-course approach within WHO’s Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) Global Action Plan and the development of a new Healthy Living Chapter that addresses NCDs proposed for UNICEF’s Facts For Life publication – it is very exciting to have children and adolescents acknowledged in these ways.

6. What do you like to do in your spare time?

Being with family. My kids love sports and I love watching them, so most weekends are filled with watching them play cricket, soccer, netball or rugby. I also like to garden and read when I have time.

7.  What advice would you give someone starting the DrPH now?

Start writing early – it pays off later. Also, pick something you are really passionate about that will sustain your interest throughout the course.

Kate Armstrong

Posted in
Student Profiles

Leave a Reply