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15 Apr 2014

When Rosemary Aldrich’s phone rang one day in late 2010, she had no idea it would lead to the development of a world-first training resource for public health specialists interested in global health.

“The caller said, ‘We have a small amount of money, can you think of something to do with it?’ ” Associate Professor Aldrich said.

The timing of the call was fortuitous, coming soon after the public health physician had started to think about how she might gain the knowledge and training to usefully equip her for global health work.

After years working as a public health physician while also raising a family, by late last decade Associate Professor Aldrich was finally in a position to begin pursuing her interest in global health in earnest.

But, while serving as Chair of the Workforce Committee of the Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine (AFPHM) (a faculty of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians), it became apparent that there was nothing in place which set out just what experienced specialists like her needed to know to undertake roles in resource-constrained settings outside Australia, and with the right attitude and approach.

“There was a gap in training for people like me,” she said, and this realisation, combined with the funding offer, led her to suggest the development of a global health practice curriculum for AFPHM Fellows.

Working with a small group of other specialist physicians (Professors Peter Hill, Chris Morgan and Anthony Zwi​), and with the support of the AFPHM, Associate Professor Aldrich, who is Director of Medical Services at the Calvary Mater Newcastle hospital as well as Conjoint Associate Professor in the School of Medicine and Public Health at Newcastle University, bent to the task with a will. Working with a small group of other specialist physicians and the support of the AFPHM, several workshops were organised which brought together global health practitioners from across Australia and New Zealand.  These were followed by extensive consultations across the field and with other medical Colleges.

The result, by mid-2012, was the development of a draft set of Global Health Practice Competencies which has since been endorsed by the AFPHM and is being used to guide Rosemary and others to set their own program of professional development and training in global health practice.

It has not been always a straightforward process, but Associate Professor Aldrich said that what has been readily apparent is the enormous interest in global health among her specialist colleagues, and a ready demand for opportunities to engage in the area.

“There are many, many specialists who have or are doing this off their own bat already, but the skills and knowledge needed for senior medical global health practice have not before been identified and described as we have done” she said.

Associate Professor Aldrich said she felt “nowhere near the end of my working life”, so “having global health training is just another avenue for pursuing interesting and rewarding work in the service of others”.

She said she felt surprised to be told by experts in the field that the development of a set of global health competencies for specialist medicos was the first of its kind in the world, and was very pleased that it had attracted attention and support from colleagues, both in Australia and internationally.

Earlier this month she addressed a global health leadership workshop in Singapore attended by senior clinicians and managers from around the world. She spoke about a range of health workforce issues, including the curriculum and its development.

“At the start, I had no idea it would generate such interest,” Associate Professor Aldrich said. “In reality this was about organising a whole lot of experts to come together to meet my own needs for training! It goes to show, if you want something to happen, get on and do it, and it might just turn into something not all about you.”

Adrian Rollins


Published: 15 Apr 2014