Elise Rivera, Health Promotion SIG Travel Award Recipient
This submission was written prior to the Voice referendum on 14 October 2023.
It was a great privilege to be awarded the PHAA Health Promotion Special Interest Group’s Travel Award 2023 and attend the 2023 Australian Public Health Conference in Hobart. I am honoured to have had the opportunity to meet fellow public health professionals, engage in fruitful discussions about a range of public health issues and developments in the field, and learn more about different projects taking place throughout the sector to inform my work. I gained new insights and key learnings that I am eager to apply in my own research and teaching as a Lecturer in Public Health.
The plenary sessions and oral presentations were informative, thought-provoking, and broadened my knowledge of the many facets of public health. As a Lecturer in Public Health, I am always looking for ways to further connect the lecture content and theory that I teach my students to real-world practice. These sessions were very useful for me as I learned about current projects to feature as practical examples in my lectures. The sessions on ‘collaborating for public health’, ‘embedding evaluation’, and ‘health determinants and inequities’ were particularly salient to the units and topics that I teach, and I left the conference equipped with an abundance of example projects to showcase public health in action.
The conference also reinforced the importance of challenging myself to continuously learn and acquire new knowledge. My research focuses heavily on physical activity and health promotion across the lifespan and among priority populations. It is sometimes easy for me to forget to step outside of my ‘physical activity research bubble’. The conference was a timely reminder of the breadth of public health and how there is so much more to learn and know beyond my research niche. I intentionally attended sessions on topics that I was less familiar with, such as ‘communication and information’, ‘governance, policy, law and ethics’, ‘food’ and ‘communicable diseases’. I am very happy that I did because it was not only enjoyable to learn, but it also made me more knowledgeable about unfamiliar, equally important domains of public health. Additionally, it reminded me that achieving the conference theme of ‘investing in a strong, smart, and sustainable health public health system for the future’, will require continuous learning and applying insights to make meaningful progress towards future public health challenges.
Another highlight of the conference was all the deep and incredibly important discussion about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights, sovereignty, self-determination, and health especially with the upcoming Voice referendum. It was powerful to be in a room with hundreds of public health professionals all supporting the equity of First Nations people and understanding how paramount it is for the referendum to succeed if true reconciliation with Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is to be achieved. It was clear that regardless of the outcome, things will change after October 14th and now is a pivotal point in Australia’s history for First Nations voices to be heard and for further strides towards addressing the health and other inequities that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples face.
It was also very exciting to get an update on the Australian Centre for Disease Control (CDC) from the Assistant Secretary for the Australian CDC Establishment Branch of the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care at the conference. While the Australian CDC will focus on the prevention of infectious diseases and increasing resources and preparedness for future health crises, it was great to hear that preventive health and health promotion will also be thematic priorities. I am eager to see the establishment of an Australian CDC continue to progress as it is a key opportunity to improve public health in Australia.
The conference was a fabulous opportunity for me to further build my professional network. I developed meaningful connections with other practitioners in public health research and practice. As a result of the networking, I gained mentors and met potential collaborators. Additionally, I identified peers to invite to guest lecture for my public health units. The connections I made will undoubtedly benefit my career and my students’ learning.
I am incredibly thankful to the Health Promotion Group for this very enriching experience in which I gained new insights, connected with fellow public health professionals, and contextualised my own research and lecturing more broadly. I am thrilled to return to my work with an even greater dedication to public health and health promotion, and a deeper passion and connection to the field!