At the end of the first term teaching the new Injury Epidemiology, Prevention and Control course at the UNSW School of Population Health, course convenor Dr Amy Peden reflects on how the course has gone, the opportunities it provides students, what motivated her to pursue her teaching and research career in injury prevention, and the impact she hopes to have on the health and wellbeing of people in Australia and around the world.
When did you join UNSW School of Population Health and what is your professional background?
I joined UNSW School of Population Health in 2019 in both a teaching and research capacity. Prior to this, I was the National Manager of Research and Policy with Royal Life Saving Society – Australia, working on drowning prevention research, policy, and advocacy.
I also volunteered in Da Nang, Viet Nam working on a survival swimming program. In Vietnam more than 3000 children die from drowning each year, so a program such as SwimSafe is of vital importance.
Why did you join the School and what is your current focus?
I was interested to make the move into academia, partly as it was time for a change in my career, but also to experience teaching and collaborating with what I hope is the next generation of injury prevention researchers.
I am particularly passionate about drowning prevention and the unique injury risk posed by alcohol and geographical remoteness. When I moved into academia, I knew I wanted to work on reducing injury-related harms for people living in the country and my research is focused on the intersecting issues of geographical remoteness and alcohol, two issues which dramatically increase drowning risk (and injury risk) in regional and remote communities.
What has inspired this focus, and more broadly, working in population health?
I grew up in a small town (Parkes) in the central west of NSW, Australia, so I know firsthand how underserved rural communities are. I also was fortunate enough to have been able to learn to swim and I enjoy swimming recreationally and for fitness. I think everyone should have the right to be able to learn to swim and to enjoy the water safely; that has been (and continues to be) the focus of my work.
What has been the most rewarding aspects of the new injury course so far?
It has been powerful to be able to learn from students about the diverse range of reasons that have motivated them to enroll in the course, with several student personally impacted by the loss of loved ones to injury.
As a teacher, it is always thrilling to engage with students in tutorials and be part of their journey as they reflect on the material, in particular, discussing with confidence things they did not know before the course.
Injury prevention is such an important issue for population health. It is important that we make this content available to our students, as a valuable part of any well-rounded education in population health – it has been exciting to develop a new course from scratch to address this need.
What opportunities does the injury course provide?
There are many opportunities to use the skills from our injury course across government, the health system, and the not-for-profit sector – my background before joining the UNSW School of Population Health. With Australia’s new National Injury Prevention Strategy soon to be released, I expect there will be even more upcoming opportunities for funded research on a range of injury topics in the near future.
I hope the course will build a student cohort, in Australia and internationally, who are interested in, and passionate about, preventing injury and reducing injury-related harm.
Building on the world-leading injury prevention research program of the School, I also hope we will expand this work by collaborating with future PhD students to address injury prevention issues of importance across Australia and the Asia-Pacific region.
What advice you give those considering a career in research and population health?
I would say, if you are interested, go for it! There is no shortage of work to be done and it is a really rewarding field to be a part of it. I am so happy to be able to work on projects where I can be proud of the positive impact I am making on people’s health and wellbeing.
More broadly, what are highlights from your work?
The work that I am most proud of, and that has been the most impactful, was my PhD research exploring river drowning and its prevention in Australia. In partnership with Royal Life Saving Society – Australia, the research has spawned two national drowning prevention programs (Respect the River and Make the Right Call), both of which are in existence to this day. Since this work was conducted river drowning fatalities have continued to decline, resulting in the saving of 32 lives. This work has also been acknowledged by the Sax Institute and the Council of Academic Public Health Institutions Australasia and led to me receiving the Dean’s Award for Higher Degree by Research Excellence at James Cook University, where I completed my PhD.
What are the biggest health challenges facing the world today?
One of the biggest challenges are health inequities such as the disproportionate injury risk faced by people in regional and remote communities and people of low socio-economic status. It will take upstream approaches, well beyond a traditional injury prevention approach, to reduce injury-related harm for such people. We have an opportunity to make a difference in reducing injury risk as well as improving a range of different population health outcomes as well.
Similarly, the increased rates of injury in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are a blight on our nation and are borne out of systematic racism and the history of colonization. Through the School’s current projects exploring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s connection to water and perspectives of water safety, I hope I can contribute to reducing the high rates of fatal drowning among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic and recent bushfire emergencies influenced your view of population health and priorities for the future?
These have reaffirmed my commitment to the field of population health as I have seen the important role the academic community has made across both issues. The bushfires have reaffirmed my desire to continue my work in disaster risk reduction and resilience, given the impacts of climate change will result in increased fires and flooding, leading to greater risk of injury and death. It is an issue we all must urgently do more to address, especially our politicians.
In addition to convening the injury course Epidemiology, Prevention and Control, Amy is also convener of the injury and disaster research theme within the School, a member of the executive of the Australasian Injury Prevention Network and the International Life Saving Federation’s Drowning Prevention and Public Education committee, associated editor at BMC Public Health, and maintains a range of research collaborations across Australia and internationally.
In the area of COVID-19, Amy has worked on collaboration discussing the links between condoms, lifejackets and face masks as public health approaches risk reduction which was published in MJA Insight Plus and the Sydney Morning Herald, and is currently collaborating with colleagues to explore the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns and bushfires on drowning rates.
Interested in injury prevention but missed out on the course this year? Contact Amy at email@example.com. There may be research opportunities in the meantime, and we plan to run the course again in T1, 2022.