PHAA President Dr Tarun Weeramanthri awarding Tan Nguyen a PHAA Fellowship

“A career in public health can transform people’s lives”: Introducing Tan Nguyen, PHAA Fellow

“A career in public health can transform people’s lives”: Introducing Tan Nguyen, PHAA Fellow

By Tan Nguyen, PHAA Fellow

Tan Nguyen was awarded a PHAA Fellowship during the recent Australian Public Health Conference in Hobart. We talked to him about his passion for public health and career to date.

What was your reaction to receiving the PHAA Fellowship?

I am really honoured to be acknowledged for my contribution to public health, with a particular interest in oral health. I am working with some of the great contributors to this field including past convenors of the Oral Health Special Interest Group and Fellows such as Dr Bruce Simmons and Dr John Rogers. It has renewed my motivation and commitment to improving the oral health of all Australians.

Why did you choose a career in public health?

Early in my career, I was working in a Victorian community health service as an oral health therapist. I was fortunate to be given an opportunity there to learn and develop skills in practice-based research which, in turn, expanded my interests into public health and health economics. I recognised that a career in public health can transform and touch many more people’s lives beyond the individual consumer interactions within the confines of clinical dental practice.  Those of us working in public health know it takes persistence and patience to effect health outcomes. I liken public health to a video game, which requires testing and learning using different strategies to achieve a goal. I thrive on learning and meeting like-minded colleagues through my public health career.

What do you enjoy about the day-to-day aspects of being busy with three hats as an oral health therapist, Oral Health SIG co-convenor, and spokesperson for the National Oral Health Alliance? It sounds like you’re very good at time management!

Colleagues have asked me that very same question! I work across and collaborate with organisations that have excellent alignment on public health. Therefore, I spend my time efficiently. It also enables me to maximise opportunities to translate research into policy and practice. My oral health therapist hat is minimal these days. I work across four different organisations and am currently completing my PhD on ‘Assessing Cost-Effectiveness on Oral Health Preventive Interventions’.

Having so many interests from different perspectives in public health can make it challenging to have a focused career trajectory. Recently, I attended four separate conferences in just four-weeks! I face similar challenges in balancing my time between different professional associations and special interest groups.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

This year, I represented the National Oral Health Alliance on 20 September 2023, appearing before the Senate Select Committee on Access and Provision of Dental Services in Australia. I enjoyed learning about and contributing to this dental inquiry, which has reached an important policy window. You can hear the National Oral Health Alliance Opening Statement here. Fundamentally, we need the Australian government to take responsibility for oral health, and to appoint the first Federal Chief Oral Health Officer.

What public health issue do you think does not get the attention it deserves?

Unsurprisingly, other health priorities in Australia have often superseded the public health issue of oral health. I am confident the World Health Organization’s refocus on oral health, through the landmark release of the Global Oral Health Strategy in 2022 and subsequent Global Oral Health Action Plan 2023-2030, will be influential in driving urgently needed action to integrate oral health into universal health coverage. In Australia, oral health remains the missing link in our universal health insurance system, Medicare.

Do you have any advice for someone considering a career in public health?

Public health is a highly rewarding career, personally and professionally. There are so many different areas of public health you can get into, and it doesn’t necessarily require research, policy or advocacy expertise. If you have a passion for public health, I recommend joining the discussions and meetings offered by the various PHAA special interest groups and the state/territory branches. Everyone at the PHAA is always learning and growing with one another.

Lastly, was there anything else you wished to add?

In navigating a career in public health, it is extremely helpful to find a mentor, whether formal or informal. You should also build your networks early outside of your own discipline. In your current line of work or study, identify something you want to pursue as a side project. You would be surprised how far these projects can take you towards achieving a fulfilling career in public health.

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