Scholarship winners share reflections on Preventive Health Conference

Picture of 3 scholarship winners: Tara Guckel, Belinda Belhatchet, and Nurhira Abdul Kadir. Text: 'Preventive Health Conference 2022. Accelerating action. Wednesday 11 to Friday 13 May 2022. Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, QLD. Hybrid conference. | #Prevention2022.' Public Health Association of Australia logo.

Joe Carrello, PHAA NSW

Earlier in 2022, the PHAA NSW branch awarded four scholarships for individuals to attend the 2022 PHAA Preventive Health Conference, held 11-13 May at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. The winners were:

  • Belinda Belhatchet (Student scholarship)
  • Nurhira Abdul Kadir (Student scholarship),
  • Patricia Fleming (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scholarship), and
  • Tara Guckel (Early career researcher scholarship)

Each scholarship included conference registration, flights, accommodation, and PHAA membership. Unfortunately, Patricia was unable to attend the conference in person, however Belinda, Nurhira, and Tara attended the conference and shared their reflections.


Nurhira Abdul Kadir

Due to COVID-19, I have not had the opportunity to attend conferences, network, and meet experts. I was privileged to attend the PHAA 2022 Preventive Health Conference on a NSW Branch student scholarship.

My research interest is teaching public health to medical students, which was strongly linked to the 2022 conference theme ‘Accelerating Action’. The conference connected me with experts from different public health areas including diversity, equity, inclusion, and access to health prevention. Public health is a broad area, and the conference helped broaden my perspectives as to what public health topics are relevant to Indonesian medical education. The talk by Associate Professor Tinashe Dune about teaching diversity to health professional students was particularly interesting and relevant to my research and I look forward to following her work.

While it may seem unimportant to some, particularly those used to these conferences, a highlight for me was attending a conference that had a mix of not only researchers and university academics, but also healthcare professionals and people in other fields. This was a uniquely new experience for me as an international student, as cross institutional and discipline conferences are not customary in my home country. Attending Prevention 2022, with delegates and speakers from such a variety of professional backgrounds, has made me aware of the immense possibilities that can be brought about through collaboration and knowledge sharing. This is certainly something I will be sharing with my colleagues when I return home, and will be striving to incorporate into future conferences that I am involved in.

Thank you PHAA, for this important opportunity to learn.


Belinda Balhatchet

It is difficult to express how inspiring, engaging and encouraging I found the Preventive Health Conference. Being ‘in the room where it happened’ (instead of behind a screen) with hundreds of intelligent and passionate health professionals was a breath of fresh air after the past few years. The conference program was full of outstanding speakers doing brilliant work across many sectors to accelerate action and improve health outcomes across the country.

I got something out of every session I attended. The fabulous Welcome to Country by Tribal Experience set the tone for the entire conference, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health was a key focus. Adjunct Professor Robyn Littlewood’s shocking statistics about health disparities in Queensland were a stark call to action, and I was encouraged by the work being done by Health and Wellbeing QLD to address these disparities. As a white scholar I was challenged by the plenary session on decolonisation, particularly Associate Professor Tinashe Dune’s presentation on cultural competence. I still have a lot to learn in this area, so this session was a valuable opportunity to listen and reflect. I also attended many other interesting presentations on a range of topics by researchers from across Australia, which were all valuable in different ways.

Key Takeaways

This was the first in-person conference I attended since commencing my PhD in 2020. My two key takeaways are:

  • Public health success requires academia, industry, and government to work together to change systems. Collaboration is key, not competition.
  • We are not alone. Research can feel solitary at times, so I appreciated the reminder that there are thousands of people working towards a common goal of better health outcomes.

I left the conference feeling newly inspired and motivated for the future of public health in Australia. It reminded me why I chose this field. I am grateful to the PHAA NSW Branch for giving me the opportunity to attend, and I highly recommend it to others in need of a fresh perspective after a difficult period. There are people doing great things in our field – come and hear about it!


Tara Guckel

I was also fortunate enough to be awarded a PHAA NSW Scholarship for Prevention 2022. As someone who predominantly works in the alcohol and other drug and mental health prevention field, it was an enlightening experience to listen and learn from the broader public health prevention community. The conference theme was ‘accelerating action’ and I walked away with clear vision of where my future research and advocacy should be heading. There were many notable presentations and speakers throughout the conference, and three key themes and priorities have stayed with me.

Firstly, social determinants of health. As highlighted in Adjunct Professor Robyn Littlewood’s opening address, the life she lives versus that of a friend in the same state (Queensland) are vastly different. The differences in their lives are largely due to the social determinants of health and included, but were not limited to, housing, food affordability, and access to healthcare. Starting the conference with this address set the tone for the many other presentations which highlighted the need to focus on the social determinants of health to solve the many ‘wicked’ problems in public health.

Secondly, racist structures in public health and society more broadly. Thursday’s plenary session on decolonising and disrupting whiteness in preventive health was the conference standout for me. In particular, Assistant Professor Sume Ndumbe-Eyoh ended her presentation with steps for unlearning/unsettling whiteness, providing clear, actionable steps for public health to disrupt whiteness. The most notable to me was the need to move beyond consultation and advice, toward meaningful involvement of Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour. Whilst this is not revolutionary news, it is something which needs to be a priority for public health, healthcare, and research. This is something I want to direct my advocacy efforts towards.

Lastly, the passion of the public health community. Prevention 2022 showcased the remarkable work being done, and the ways in which we can learn from and with one another. Interestingly the rapid fire, mixed room sessions highlighted the similarities in a lot of the work we are doing and the challenges we face in advancing prevention work. Breaking down silos, even within public health prevention, will allow us to accelerate action and build on the important work already being done. For example, many of the successful aspects of a behaviour change program for adult Australians presented by Associate Professor Joy Parkinson could be applied in other contexts, such as my work in youth mental health and substance use prevention.

Ultimately though, the passion for prevention and public health of all speakers and delegates at the conference was evident. With so many intelligent and kind people working, advocating, and leading in this space, I’m optimistic that alongside the new government we can truly accelerate action in public health prevention.


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