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School of Medical Sciences; Nursing and Midwifery and Psychology and Social Science - Occasional Speaker

Sunday, 20 January 2013, 7.00pm

Ms Helen Grinbergs


In preparing for this address I tried to recall the occasion of my own graduation from the Australian National University some 20 years ago now and admit it is all a blur and the dinner and drinks with my fellow archaeology graduates and their families was far more memorable. Mostly I remember feeling a sense of elation that yes I'd done it and I could now go out into the world and make something of myself. What that something would be I wasn't quite sure - there weren’t a lot of paying jobs for archaeologists back then.  However, I knew that equipped with the skills I had learned and developed through my degree - analysis and research, observation, and communication - would lead to unknown opportunities even if not a female version of Indiana Jones.

I certainly could not have predicted that I would be doing what I am doing now, so let me tell you a little bit about the pathway from archaeology to public health. I've always had an interest public health. I grew up in a very medically minded family - my great grandfather Professor John Windeyer established the first ante-natal clinic in Australia and was the first Professor of Obstetrics in Australia at the University of Sydney. His belief was always 'to try and make childbirth safer for the mother'i. By all accounts he was a kind and sympathetic but not inspiring teacher. The medical students that graduated in 1924 described him as 'Benevolent and imperturbable, with a slumberous voice and an uncanny long memory. Delivers lectures and infants with equanimity, and faces a squawling ten-pounder or an uproarious class with a manner which is almost maternal'ii.

His daughter, my paternal grandmother was also an obstetrician/gynaecologist and a specialist at Sydney's Crown Street Womens Hospital in one of Sydney's first well women clinicsiii. My father is an epidemiologist and worked for many years in public health including being part of the team that introduced medicare, and lead a range of national research studies with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. My mother was a physiologist and also worked in public health with the Therapeutic Goods Association and the National Health and Medical Research Council. While I may have had desires of the Indiana Jones type I grew up in an environment where health and in particular public health were daily topics of conversation and the importance of health to not only an individual's well-being but also improving socio-economic outcomes was imprinted in my psyche. So, naturally I ended up working in climate change for 15 years.

Working with economists in climate change introduces you to a whole range of perspectives and over the course of my career in this area I moved from the stance of climate change as simply an environmental issue to understanding that it is also first and foremost an economic issue and so to health.

As noted by the Climate Commission 'Our health and the health of our families and communities is the foundation for our way of life, our society and economy'iv. Health is one of the top priorities for Australians. Every year we collectively invest more and more in our health. A changing climate is already putting pressure on the natural economic and social systems that sustain good health. Climate change will lead to more injuries, disease and deaths in the decades to come and the more vulnerable members of our community will be hardest hit by climate change related illness. At the same time the demands on our health system are increasing due to an ageing population, increased rates of chronic and preventable disease, new treatments and technologies becoming available and rising health costs. This in turn puts pressure on our economy - according to Treasury health care costs at the Commonwealth level are expected to grow five-fold in the coming decadesv.

We are entering a new era of health care and never one to miss an opportunity I saw the role of State Manager for WA for Health and Ageing as a way I could contribute to helping shape that future and continue to learn and challenge myself. Believe me I learn something new and am challenged every day.

As graduates in health you also have an opportunity to help shape that future and are key to accomplishing broader health reform in Australia and in turn a healthy nation. National health reform is well underway. In hospitals we are seeing more hospital beds, reduced waiting times, investments in infrastructure and improvements in how our hospitals are funded and managed. Health care services are shifting from hospitals to primary care, the part of Australia’s health system that people use most. A strong primary health care system, which values the frontline role of nurses and allied health professionals, will help to keep people well and out of hospital.

The ultimate success of every health care system, including its ability to serve all citizens, is dependent on its ability to engage the efforts of all those in the health sector, Doctors, nurses and allied health professionals. We need a health workforce able to meet the needs of the Australian community. You will all be a key part of that workforce be it as nurse, nurse practitioner, midwife, psychologist, Aboriginal health worker, therapist, paramedic, medical researcher. You will be at the frontline of reform - caring for people in hospitals and health centres, nursing homes, in schools, workplaces and at home, in the city and the outback, in prisons, war zones and refugee camps; at the beginning of life and at the end of life; preventing ill health treating and managing conditions, keeping the healthy, healthy; and helping those with conditions to manage day to day life. You are the people that inspire me to do the best I can to improve the health of Australians and I encourage you to take inspiration from those around you as I have and to continue to learn and challenge yourselves.

Once again I congratulate you all and I wish you success as you move into the workforce or undertake further study.


i Source: Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.

Webb, N. and Young, J. A., "The Medical School in the 1920s" in Centenary Book of the University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine (1984) in Young, J. A., Sefton., A. J., and Webb, N., Sydney University Press, Sydney, pp. 216-7. Cited in Mellor, Lise and Witton, Vanessa (2008) Windeyer, John Cadell. Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.

ii Ibid

iii http://sydney.edu.au/medicine/alumni/news/tributes/090216.php

iv Source: The Climate Commission  2012 "The Critical Decade: Climate Change and Health - Key messages" www.climatecommission.gov.au

V Source: Dr Martin Parkinson PSM, Secretary to the Treasury, 'Challenges and opportunities for the Australian economy' Speech to the John Curtin Institute of Public Policy, Breakfast Forum, Perth 05 October 2012

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