All I knew when I left high school was that I wanted to work with women and facilitate social change that could improve women’s quality of life. I studied psychology and sociology, and towards the end of my undergraduate degree I felt torn in making a decision between the two disciplines. I had the benefit of meeting an inspiring Professor (Christina Lee) who showed me new perspectives in critical psychology and health psychology, which allowed me to synthesise my interest in how social structures can affect women with my passion for facilitating improvements in women’s health at the population level.
I worked on the Australian Longitudinal Study of Women’s Health and started to learn how to conduct and use research to initiate policy and service change. I also learnt about the benefits of working with researchers from many different disciplines to address the big issues in women’s health. Sometimes I’m not even sure if I’m ‘in’ psychology because my work combines so many disciplines and approaches but I love being able to collaborate with experts who have different approaches and expertise to solve real-world problems.
Passion for making real-world improvements and a critical mind are absolutely essential. To facilitate meaningful change in health services, we need to be willing to question the status quo if it doesn’t seem to be working well for everyone. Also to be brave and tenacious when advocating for change that is based on good research but might be frightening for those systems and people that we expect to adopt new ways of working. Listening well and widely to all stakeholders is important but we also need to be consistently committed to those whose needs we are trying to serve, which, in my case, are women who need to access maternity services.
In terms of health service reform, I am particularly interested in effective ways of reorienting maternity care services to become more consumer-focused and woman-centred, as well as policy and service provision improvements that can facilitate informed decision-making in maternity care.
Much of my research is also focused on population approaches to health behaviour change among women, including the application of behavioural theories to achieve large-scale change in disease prevention and health promotion. Most of my research is applied and about adapting interventions that have proven small-scale effectiveness to field settings on a larger scale, so we can establish their potential for population health impact.
My current research is particularly focused on understanding the psychosocial and environmental determinants of health behaviours among women during and after pregnancy. I am interested in how pregnancy and other life transitions during early adulthood affect health behaviours and the personal and environmental mediators of improving and maintaining healthy behaviours related to nutrition, physical activity, breastfeeding and health care use.
My research involves collaboration among a broad array of health professionals and social and behavioral scientists who share a public health or population-level perspective in planning and conducting research and a woman-centred and consumer-focused approach to health service delivery and reform.
I once spent three hot days in the Moroccan desert with a car-jacking kidnapper who claimed to be the brother of Jesus Christ. He escaped relatively unscathed.