Introduction by Croakey: The theme of the recent Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) conference was, Leadership in public health: Challenges for local and planetary communities.
You may well have seen some highlights on Twitter #AUSTPH2018 and, in the coming days we are hoping to bring you some fuller reports from the event.
But first, to the power of youth.
The post below, drawn from the conference’s final plenary, serves as an introduction to a series of four essays we are publishing at Croakey, from the PHAA’s National Public Health Student Think Tank Competition.
In a competition established and delivered by the PHAA’s Students and Young Professionals in Public Health (SYPPH) Committee, entrants were asked to respond to the prompt ‘describe an unmet need within the field of public health and describe how public health leadership is needed to address it’.
We are looking forward to publishing these essays, and are particularly thankful to SYPPH committee member, Hilary Murchison, who was the prime driver and organiser of the competition.
In the meantime, Aimee Brownbill, SYPPH Committee Chair, and the Early Career Professional Representative on the board of the PHAA, has agreed to share some of her plenary address, in which she argues convincingly that public health advocacy and leadership is much too important to put off to the future.
Keep an eye out for the four essays in our Unmet Needs in Public Health series, coming to Croakey soon.
Aimee Brownbill writes:
The more you know, the more you understand just how much you don’t know.
You realise just how complex, and deep seeded, the challenges facing public health are. The highly conservative ideology that is currently dominant in today’s society is one such challenge.
Within the confines of this ideology, governments often favour commercial interests over the health of our population. The reluctance of Australian policy makers to take evidence-based action on childhood obesity is one example.
Counter balancing the dominant discourse
During these challenging and turbulent times, it is difficult to progress the public health agenda. However, it is not impossible. We should not be discouraged by the complexity and enormity of the problem. Rather, we should feel an even greater sense of urgency and responsibility to act.
Critical to addressing these complex challenges facing public health, is to counter-balance the dominant discourse on these issues. The public health perspective needs to be shared in a common and accessible way. If an alternative and, most importantly, an attractive discourse is not made available, things cannot change.
Everyday leadership and advocacy
There are many examples of leaders who publicly and relentlessly advocate for public health. However, there is great potential to increase public health impact if we expand how we think about leadership. Often, leadership is painted in our minds as a grand and noble gesture. This makes it easy for us to distance ourselves from self-identifying leaders, and from the need for us to be leaders.
We need to embrace the idea of everyday leadership and advocacy. This is where great opportunity lies in effectively engaging with students and young professionals in public health.
Students and young professionals in public health are often extremely passionate and action oriented. Being in the midst of learning about the complex challenges facing public health, students and young professionals often find themselves torn between wanting to act, to meaningfully contribute to solutions, but not knowing how.
There are two key barriers faced by students and young professionals wanting to be more engaged. Firstly, a lack of direction. It is often unclear what action we can take; opportunities appear limited. Secondly, a lack of confidence. Students and young professionals often experience ‘imposter feelings’ where they fear they are not qualified or experienced enough to act.
Imagine if these barriers were broken down so that students and young professionals were enabled to utilise everyday leadership and advocacy skills to contribute to the public health discourse. The Students and Young Professionals in Public Health (SYPPH) group of the Public Health Association of Australia was born out of this vision.
The PHAA Students and Young Professionals group
The SYPPH group is looking for ways to better engage with students and young professionals to help guide and connect them to the resources they need to build confidence and foster the determinants to create everyday champions for their public health cause.
Students and young professionals are not just leaders of the future. They can, and indeed they must, be leaders of the present. Through amplifying the voices of our young people, we can amplify the message of public health. By connecting young people to the professional development opportunities they want and need, we can strengthen our future public health workforce.
This is required if we are to overcome the complex public health challenges we face.
Further reflections on public health leadership at the Australian Public Health Conference 2018
Conversations from the Australian Public Health Conference 2018 echoed the importance for us to acknowledge, and to act on, the power we have as individuals who make up a much larger collective.
This spans across all areas of our professional and individual lives, from being advocates for our cause to making politically conscious votes, and not flushing what little fresh water we have down the toilet.
Immediate past CEO of the PHAA, Professor Michael Moore, furthered this discussion through the lens of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework.
As Moore put it, SDG 3 may state ‘good health and wellbeing’, but each SDG is fundamentally an issue of public health. It was a timely reminder of the multi-sectorial nature of public health and the need for collaborated efforts.
In line with the conference’s theme ‘Leadership in public health: Challenges for local and planetary communities’, many discussions stressed the immediate action that needs to be taken to protect the health of our planet.
Several keynote presentations highlighted the many ways that planetary health is synonymous with human health.
Discussions of equity can also not be separated from discussions of planetary health. It is those who already disproportionately experience poor health and economic disadvantage who, while contributing the least to ecological damage, are already experiencing the devastating effects of climate change.
These are not distant problems, they require action now.
Aimee Brownbill is a PhD candidate with the SAHMRI Population Health Research Group and the University of Adelaide School of Public Health. She is the Early Career Professional Board Representative, Public Health Association of Australia. This article is drawn from her address to the PHAA, at the final plenary of their annual conference in Cairns on Friday September 28, 2018. On Twitter @PHAA_SYPPH @AimeeBrownbill
This week, Aimee Brownbill is tweeting all things public health, from @WePublicHealth
To read the finalist essays in the Unmet Needs in Public Health series, click here
View Aimee Brownbill’s address to the PHAA conference in Cairns, below.