Composite image features an "I helped #VaxTheIllawarra" social media tile and a portrait photo of Soutara Potter. Portrait photo credit Tad Souden

Why a Prime Ministerial aspirant chose a career in public health instead

Why a Prime Ministerial aspirant chose a career in public health instead

Jeremy Lasek – PHAA

To date our public health workforce features have documented the careers of professionals with many years of experience. Today, we meet a relative newcomer, who only chose this career path in the past 12 months.

The enormous global impact of COVID; the suffering, the challenges, and the ever-changing roadmap out, convinced Soutara Potter to pursue a career in public health.

In the latest in our series of articles capturing the essence of life in the public health workforce, we meet a young woman whose earliest ambition as a teenager was to be the first female Prime Minister in Australia.

While Julia Gillard may have stolen the march on Soutara by rising to the nation’s top job in 2010, how pleasing she’s chosen a career path which also has at its core changing Australian lives for the better.

When the public health penny dropped

Having completed her undergrad in Commerce (Management and Marketing) at the University of Wollongong, COVID struck “and that’s what really got me thinking about public health as a career,” Soutara recalled.

It was always her passion to help and support others, but it never clicked that this could form the basis of her future working life.

“It took some years for me to make the connections but as soon as I realised public health was what I’d been involved with for years, I knew that’s what I wanted my career to be,” Soutara said.

“So, here I am studying my Master of Public Health while working two jobs that I’m deeply passionate about.”

Those roles – within the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Pulse student services organisation and at events and marketing company Bluejuice – has provided Soutara with a great taster of what’s to come in her public health workforce future.

“I loved when I was working within the Wellness Program at UOW Pulse where I would deliver workshops and organise event activations, and students’ faces would just light up when they saw what we were doing,” she said.

“I now focus on Pulse Pantry – an initiative providing free staple ingredients to UOW students facing hardship. As a student myself, I understand the periods when study becomes stressful, so I always make an effort to check in and see how I can better support the students.”

Opportunity knocks during COVID

Soutara said while she missed the face-to-face interactions during the COVID lockdowns and restrictions, it also provided her with an opportunity to learn about and support the #VaxTheIllawarra campaign, for which she manages its social media accounts.

“I’m so grateful I’ve been able to remain involved in some public health-related areas throughout COVID.

“I guess if you’re looking at COVID negatives, the Masters course I wanted to study didn’t actually run. It was a brand-new course at UOW – ‘Master of Public Health Practice’ – which basically gave us two work placements as part of the course, something I was really hoping I could do to really explore what areas of health promotion I’d love to focus on as a career.”

Soutara is excited about the future but unsure exactly where it might lead her.

“Public health is everywhere in Australia. I’ve job searched a lot, I’m open minded, and while I haven’t found something specific, I want to be involved in something where I can make a positive difference.

Motivated by mentors

“I’m grateful to have had two wonderful mentors over the last three years, Graeme Sutherland and Jancey Mallins, both of whom have shown me how important it is to continually job search in order to understand what opportunities are actually out there.

“My manager and colleagues at UOW Pulse have also been supportive over the years, giving me opportunities to work with health promotion-related programs and initiatives while also reminding me to take a step back and rest too.”

Soutara may be new to public health but she’s taken to it with great gusto and is clearly hungry to learn.

“The move to online events has allowed me to be more involved with the PHAA. I attended my first event earlier this month (the 2021 Public Health and Health Promotion Students Career Pathways Event) and I’m looking forward to attending more.

“I’m also excited to say I was successful in the position of President for the Illawarra Public Health Society (IPHS) for 2022. IPHS played a large part in advocating for a Smoke Free UOW a few years ago, and with the rising use of vapes among young adults, I’d really like to work with my executive team to remind the community a Smoke Free UOW includes vaping.”

What’s next?

Soutara recently won a 2021 Caddyshack Project Award which recognises individuals and organisations who make a contribution to the sexual health and wellbeing of their communities.

“In 10 years’ time, I would love to be in a position where I’m a project lead, empowering so many others to make a difference in this world,” Soutara said.

“If you asked me what specific area of public health that would be – I really couldn’t tell you. At the moment I have an interest in both mental health and sexual health, but anything is possible in my eyes.”

Image credit: Tad Souden Photography

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