Jeremy Lasek – PHAA
The PHAA today wraps up our series recognising some of public health’s highest achievers who’ve been awarded Australia Day honours by the Governor-General.
Rosa Billi, who leads the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation’s Research and Evaluation Branch was among 60 federal, state, territory and local government employees to receive a Public Service Medal (PSM).
Rosa was recognised for ‘outstanding public service to community health in Victoria, particularly in the area of gambling harm’.
As reported by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation on 25 February, the Chair of the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, Tass Mousaferiadis, commended Rosa for her nationally – and globally – regarded contribution to the gambling harm research field.
“Rosa is recognised internationally for her outstanding leadership in innovative gambling harm research programs,” Mr Mousaferiadis said.
“Among her achievements, Rosa designed Australia’s first longitudinal study of gambling and health, and she successfully argued for, and commissioned, a world first study examining gambling harm using the World Health Organisation’s Burden of Disease methodology.”
Ms Billi and colleagues have also collaborated with international experts on establishing Lower Risk Gambling Guidelines for the world.
The PHAA adds its congratulations to Rosa, one of many members at the forefront of world-class research, and we appreciated the opportunity to catch up with Rosa to share her public health story.
Why did you choose a career in public health?
“I did not specifically choose a career in public health. Rather, I stumbled into it. I started as an English and Drama teacher in state secondary schools in Victoria. I had completed a post-graduate degree in a health-related area and was really itching to undertake further study. My first born (now 33) was in a creche and good friends with another boy in his playroom. It was the mother of this friend who suggested I consider a Master of Public Health. I investigated this and it felt right – I felt it was home.
“I was also fortunate to be accepted into the Victorian Public Health Training Scheme, which gave me the opportunity to work across diverse public health areas – six projects over two years – with excellent supervisors and mentors. This was a valuable experience for which I am grateful. From there I moved to various roles before moving into the gambling research area.”
What part of your work gives you the greatest satisfaction?
“Working in research is extremely satisfying. Early days in gambling-related research projects were exciting because they paved new paths and helped to build an understanding that gambling harm was not limited to a few individuals, it affected the broader community.
“Probably the greatest personal satisfaction is seeing the good work of my colleagues at the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation as well as the gambling research community here and internationally.”
How has COVID impacted your life and your work?
“COVID has had an impact on resources, programs and people. Victorian lockdowns meant that many research projects could not proceed because gambling venues, schools and sporting programs were closed.
“At home, COVID was simply very hard – two years where time both expanded and contracted.”
Who would you like to give a shout-out to?
“I would like to acknowledge my motivated, energetic, passionate, hardworking colleagues at the Foundation who run with the evidence from research and work their magic into prevention, support and treatment, and public health marketing campaigns.
“My colleagues from my time at the Department of Justice were supportive and championed an epidemiological study of gambling and health. In those days ‘epidemiology’ was an unpronounceable word – almost another language – abbreviated by all to ‘epi study’, but the word is now much better understood. Findings from this study provided the basis for further research at the Foundation.
“I also acknowledge the many people who have shared their lived experience of gambling harm with researchers, in order to help others.”
If you were the Minister for Health for a day, what would you do? Your priorities?
- Prevention: Benjamin Franklin once said that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. An old adage worth following.
- Education: Wearing my former teacher hat, I would elevate education. Education is an important key to good health and wellbeing – from early learning to post-graduate.
- I would reinstate the Victorian Public Health Training Scheme.
What advice would you have for someone considering a career in public health?
“Go for it! A career in public health is fascinating and is more like lifelong learning than work.”
And for someone starting out on a career in public health?
“Be patient. Be persistent. Be open. Change is incremental and slow.”
What’s coming next for you in your career?
“I would love to continue building the gambling harm evidence base. Although we have made significant progress, it is still in its infancy.
“By working closely with other areas of public health, particularly mental health and alcohol and other drugs, I would like to help elevate the understanding of gambling as a health issue affecting the whole community.
“I want to help build the evidence base for policy and regulatory change, including in relation to high-risk gambling products like pokies and advertising that normalises betting on sport. Sport should be about enjoying the game (go Cats!!), not thinking about the odds.”
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
“Being awarded the Public Service Medal was a very humbling experience. It is important to acknowledge the many people who have worked with me on our shared journey to support a public health approach to gambling harm.”