After being told by a high school teacher that she would amount to nothing in science, UNSW alumna Lauren Richardson set out to prove them wrong. Looking back at her career to date, she certainly did.

With the desire to look at science through the lens of human health, she chose to study Health Science and moved to Melbourne to do so.

“I was fascinated with anatomy, physiology and biology and how everything was interconnected yet interdependent,” Lauren said. This fascination drove her to pursue a career in medicine.

The next logical step for Lauren was to take the Graduate Medical School Admissions Test (GAMSAT). To improve her chances of entry, she added an honours year to her Health Science degree at UNSW, moving back to Sydney in 2014.

“It was genuinely one of the best years of my life,” Lauren reflected. “I was exposed to real research scientists who were very dedicated.”

Based at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney, Lauren got to observe doctors at work in the hospital during weekends and quantify their task time distribution. Her assignment was to understand ‘the weekend effect’ – increased mortality rates on weekends – and identify any potential contributors.

Lauren walked away from that year with more than First Class Honours on her academic transcript – she gained a new perspective that shifted her career aspirations.

“I got some really good insights into health systems. I realised I can make a bigger difference by looking at how healthcare is delivered rather than just one-to-one as a doctor,” she shared.

An eye-opening learning experience

With this new perspective, Lauren paved a different path and accepted a role as a research assistant. She thrived in the role, focusing on health systems and the delivery of care and impact on patient outcomes. Lauren credits this new direction to her experience at UNSW opening her eyes to greater possibilities in the public health sector.

Moving back to Melbourne, Lauren began a Master of Public Health at another university. But she quickly discovered the course lacked the flexibility she needed. Recalling her positive experience at UNSW, she transferred and continued her study with UNSW online.

“I appreciate the flexibility that UNSW offers – I could tailor my learning based on my needs, especially with a young family. UNSW supports diverse needs and delivers personalised education to optimise the learning experience.”

At UNSW Lauren had the space to explore and think innovatively – a valuable quality in the public health sector. Building this skill paid off, as she won the prestigious GradConnection Top100 Future Leaders Awards EY Innovation Award in 2023. She attributes her innovative thinking style to the engaging discussions encouraged by her lecturers at UNSW, particularly Associate Professor Dr David Heslop.

Lauren was presented with the EY Innovation Award at the GradConnection Top100 Future Leaders Awards in 2023.

Practical learning for community impact

Lauren met Dr Heslop in his Crises Emergencies and Disasters course, after adding a Master of Global Health to her degree. At the time, she was working in epidemiology and surveillance at the Department of Health, Victoria, including advising Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton. When COVID hit and she became part of the response team, Lauren wanted to better understand the complexities in crises responses.

“Dr Heslop’s insights were instrumental in exploring how the responses impact health care workers and the broader health system,” Lauren said.

Under Dr Heslop’s mentorship, she was able to analyse the Victorian Government’s COVID response. Lauren’s deeper insights have allowed her to contribute to public health policy conversations, looking beyond short-term policy change and advocating for long-term thinking. This is highlighted in her recent article, ‘The Victorian experiment: Implementing change amid a pandemic’.

“All contributors to the course have real world experience in planning, preparing and responding to disasters. I deliver a large component of the course, supported by my clinical background as a military doctor over many years, multiple deployments into humanitarian, disaster relief and other roles, and ongoing research, advisory and clinical work,” said Dr Heslop. 

Dr Heslop’s dynamic and engaging teaching grounded in real experiences reinforced Lauren’s interest in the political economy and the determinants of health. As a result, she has contributed to national inquiry submissions, including the national COVID-19 inquiry, through the Council of Academic Public Health Institution Australaisa (CAPHIA).

“Many students say the course helped change their perspectives and clinical practice on a range of issues, from the ethics of disaster resourcing through to clinical planning, practice, and systems design,” Dr Heslop added.

“The dual masters degree has deepened my understanding and heightened my awareness of global factors that impact public health decision making. The assignments prepared me well as they were rooted in real world experiences.”

Lauren Richardson,
Public Health & Global Health Leader

Learning rooted in real world experiences

Lauren is now highly engaged in advocacy and research to understand clinical decision making and best practice on a global scale. Her exposure to diverse perspectives through her study at UNSW has since equipped her to work in a global environment.

“The dual masters degree has deepened my understanding and heightened my awareness of global factors that impact public health decision making. The assignments prepared me well as they were rooted in real world experiences.”

Through the program, Lauren has gained tangible, practical frameworks to create solutions to complex problems. Using these tools, she now recognises the critical need for collaboration to adequately address pressing global health threats.

“From my UNSW experience, I have valuable tools in my professional toolbox to help strengthen and create resilient health systems.”

Lauren continues to be driven by the ability to make a tangible impact on public health outcomes and contribute to communities and their wellbeing.

“I’ve had a lot of help along the way. Studying at UNSW isn’t just about ticking the box and getting a degree, it’s a community. People are more than willing to help if you reach out and ask.”

This article was brought to you by UNSW Employability