Creating healthy communities
All photographs used with permission
Maddy Tatham grew up in the community she now serves as a health promotion practitioner.
While ACU alumna Maddy is now putting her Bachelor of Applied Public Health to good use as a health promotion practitioner for Peninsula Health, she readily admits she took a slight detour before she found her way.
“My favourite subjects in high school were legal studies and health and human development. I knew a degree like nursing wasn’t for me – I can’t deal with bodily fluids – so I went in the other direction and enrolled in law instead.
“Right away I knew it wasn’t for me; it was the whole environment. I knew I needed to make a switch at the end of my first year,” she said.
“I quite literally stumbled upon ACU in Melbourne when I had a medical appointment across the road from the campus. I had a little roam through the grounds and I immediately liked its vibe.
“When I saw ACU was offering public health and I read the course description, it immediately jumped out to me. It aligned with what I had enjoyed back in high school studying health and human development.
“Not that leaving law was easy,” she admits. “I did have a bit of a meltdown and I bawled my eyes out to my mum on the phone saying I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life. When you finish school there’s just so much pressure. Now I look back and this makes me laugh! At the time it felt like the end of the world. I knew I wanted to go to uni, but I just thought what on Earth am I going to do with my life.”
In the first place
Once Maddy started her public health course, she knew she was in the right place.
“I’ve always been passionate about health and wellbeing. And the idea of promoting it to the whole community and helping them stay healthy and take action before the onset of any disease or injury made so much sense to me.”
During her course, Maddy’s professional experience placement with Oxfam unexpectedly kicked off her career.
“I loved that placement. I was assigned to its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’s Program (ATSIPP), and that experience helped me secure my job at Peninsula Health later on.
"But that placement was my foot in the door. All you need is someone to give you a chance so that you can prove yourself.”
Her first professional role was working with Peninsula Health’s community dental team on an oral health promotion project for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, which was similar to what she’d been working on at Oxfam.
Once the project wound down, she made her way to the health promotion team where she is still based.
“My role as a health promotion practitioner is to support services across the Frankston and Mornington Peninsula region in Melbourne. We focus on health priority areas, like healthy eating, mental health and wellbeing, physical activity, sun protection, tobacco control, and sexual health and wellbeing.
“I work specifically with early childhood services, trying to identify any gaps in what we do. The idea is we’re creating healthier settings for the whole community.”
For Maddy, the best part of the job is her personal connection to the community. “I grew up in the same region and it’s a real motivator in my work. I like knowing I’m contributing to making it a healthier place for people to live, work and play.”
In the public eye
Visibility and communicating public health’s importance are now the main challenge Maddy faces.
“For us, getting people to understand what it is we do, why it’s so important and the benefits of prevention are the hardest parts.
"Once people understand that, they’re on board. But to ‘sell’ health promotion can be challenging, and we’re always exploring new and different ways to do it.
“We have to really tailor what we do to who we’re working with, whether it’s socially disadvantaged communities, people with language barriers or those with low health literacy. Though once we get the prevention message across, they’re always receptive. It’s just a matter of selling it to them.”
Right now, Maddy is having a slightly easier time communicating her message, with the COVID-19 health crisis shining a bright spotlight on public health.
“It’s definitely brought public health into people’s minds, especially when it comes to infection control and maintaining good hygiene to prevent illnesses,” she explained. “People have started thinking more about keeping their bodies healthy to get a stronger immune system to better fight off illnesses like coronavirus. Some evidence has also come out that smokers are more likely to have detrimental effects from coronavirus as their lungs are already compromised from smoking.”
Prevention is better than a cure
Maddy’s advice to anyone considering a public health career is to dive right in.
“It’s such a growing field and there are so many opportunities. And right now, we can all see there’s such a massive need for it.
“Ultimately, it would be great if there was more government spending in the prevention space, as opposed to the focus on treatments and cures. I’d love to see less people suffering from chronic diseases and in hospital due to prevention work being done.”
Discover more about where a degree in public health can take you.