Taking on the world

For nurse and Master of Public Health student Katelyn Wall, Australia’s response to COVID-19 was a perfect illustration of just what can be achieved when people come together for a societal good.

Katelyn Wall
Katelyn Wall

With zero active cases and an Australian COVID-19 vaccine rollout slated for early in the new year, emergency department nurse Katelyn Wall marvels at how things have turned around from the peak of Victoria’s second wave in August 2020.

Ms Wall’s workplace – Monash Medical Central – treated the first hospitalised case of the virus in late February and in April built a new unit to treat the growing number of COVID-19 patients. By late July and August, the hospital was seeing dozens of people presenting with serious symptoms as cases across Victoria soared to 700 a day.

"As the numbers in the community were rising, there was real concern for my colleagues and I. At that point experts were really unsure if a vaccine was going to be made available," Ms Wall said.

“But a few months later, there was promising talk of a vaccine and community transmitted cases were declining. I watched as members of the Australian community, frontline workers, scientists and government came together, and I loved being a part of that."

Emergency department sign at a hospital

After completing a Bachelor of Nursing in 2015, Ms Wall was drawn to the urgency of working in a busy emergency department.

“Emergencies are overwhelming, frightening and unpredictable, so being able to draw upon my experience with a calm persona and look someone in the eye to tell them that they are safe here is a profound experience.”

“I take pride in being a part of a team every day that has the opportunity to impact someone’s life.”

As Ms Wall and her colleagues attended to the thousands of sick and injured patients that came through the emergency department in her first years of nursing, the word impact began to take on real significance to her.

“I have always had a heart to see people free from disease. Although nursing developed a real affinity in me for working with patients and helping them overcome challenges, my eyes were opened to the increasing need for preventative health measures in global society.”

Her experiences volunteering in west Africa and parts of the Pacific provided further insights into global health challenges.

“While volunteering overseas, I saw the increasing need for strong public health reform to address the frameworks in place that actually contribute to problems that cause poor health outcomes in communities,” Ms Wall said.

“Through this local and international experience, I realised I wanted to combine my love of nursing with my love of public health and continue the personal everyday connections with people, as well as becoming more involved with preventative care.”

So in 2019, Ms Wall enrolled in the Master of Public Health at the University of Melbourne. Ranked no. 1 in Australian and no. 17 globally for public health, graduates have pursued careers as leaders in health promotion and prevention, health economists and policy advisors, outbreak investigators, healthcare planners and evaluators, and researchers across a wide range of infectious and chronic, non-communicable diseases.

“Going back to study was an exciting prospect for me to build upon my career path. I was drawn to the flexible nature of the course. Many of my courses are run as intensives, which work well with my work arrangements. It allows me to study and participate while also balancing shift work,” Ms Wall said.

A highlight for Ms Wall has been the exposure to lecturers with vast experience in both Australia and overseas: “One of my lecturers brought in his Nobel Peace Prize for show and tell – it’s not every day you get to hold one and learn from its recipient!”

“Other drawcards were the opportunities presented by the University of Melbourne’s extensive network of public health providers, and the exciting possibilities that came with public health’s emerging importance on the global stage,” Ms Wall said.

With the arrival of COVID-19, public health expertise took on a prominence that no one could have foreseen.

Several University of Melbourne academics helped shape public policy and inform community understanding of the virus and its impacts, while students and graduates of the Master of Public Health worked as ‘disease detectives’ – helping to track outbreaks for the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services.

“I am inspired by people coming together to overcome obstacles. We’ve seen it this year fighting together through COVID-19. Public health is just that, people coming together to see an end to the causes and influences that lead to disease.

“The future of a career in public health is bright. It’s about being a part of something beyond yourself. Each of us has a different view and experience to bring to the equation and it is this diversity in teams that allows for creative thinking that leads to programs that develop lasting change.”

Find out more about studying the Master of Public Health at the University of Melbourne.

Article by: Health Times