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Meet our recent PhD graduates: Hueiming Liu, Kathy Trieu and Jan Shanthosh

[Left to Right – Hueiming Liu, Jacqui Webster, Kathy Trieu, Stephen Jan, Jan Shanthosh]

Q: What attracted you to working at The George Institute?

Hueiming Liu: The people! Thinking back. I had just finished my Masters of International Public Health and was keen on working in global health research and with Aboriginal community controlled health services. There was an opening for the program manager for the Kanyini Vascular Program. During my job interview, I was inspired by the experience, vision and mutual respect conveyed by the panel. I thought to myself, “it would be great to be part of the team”. Indeed, it has been a real pleasure working alongside amazing researchers and project staff who work collaboratively to improve health outcomes for all, despite many challenges along the way.

Kathy Trieu: I wanted to work in an organization that was committed to having real-world impact on improving the health of populations. The people at The George Institute are not only dedicated to conducting research on solutions to the most important health challenges, but also translating this work into public policies, guidelines and action, to ultimately improve people’s health.

Janani Shanthosh: The George Institute actively works to achieve a balance between rigorous global health scholarship and community engagement. I was attracted to this approach because it means that we are asking the right research questions, and developing interventions that are truly responsive to community need. In addition, I was attracted to The George’s reputation for encouraging and nurturing entrepreneurial spirit, which has allowed me to develop my own area of work in public health law.

Q: What is your area of research and how does it help people lead healthier lives?

Hueiming Liu: My research is centred on understanding peoples’ needs and working collaboratively to design and implement care that would improve health outcomes. We do a lot of research to test the effectiveness of complex interventions which will improve access, affordability and quality of essential care for all. It is important that we examine the policy, organisational and individual level factors so as to understand whether the proposed intervention would meet the needs of the patients and their carers.  My work involves conducting mixed methods process evaluations of work in Australia and overseas to systematically examine these factors so that the work we do will be impactful, sustainable and enable healthier lives.

Kathy Trieu: My research is centred on understanding the most effective population policies and interventions for improving nutrition and diets in different settings around the world. This is because globally, unhealthy diets are responsible for more than one of every five deaths each year, causing more deaths than any other risks, including smoking. Of the 11 million diet-related deaths, three million are caused by eating too much salt, which causes raised blood pressure and cardiovascular disease deaths. My work includes designing, implementing and evaluating interventions and policies that makes it easier for entire populations to consume less salt, and thereby have lower cardiovascular risk.

Janani Shanthosh: As a public health lawyer and global health researcher, I recognise the essential role of law in creating the conditions for people to live healthier lives. My work aims to develop empirical research tools that policy makers and researchers can use to evaluate public health law (in terms of power, effectiveness, acceptability and sustainability), and to inform the design of legislative reform.

Q: What is a recent professional highlight?

Hueiming Liu: A recent highlight has been traveling to the Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralysed in Bangladesh, to conduct the process evaluation of the CIVIC trial which aims to improve outcomes for patients with spinal cord injury. I was inspired by the amazing work the Centre has accomplished in the last 30 years from being situated in a small room in a hospital to a 200 bed rehabilitation facility that provides holistic care and continues to build a strong allied health workforce.

Kathy Trieu: Being able to continue working and learning with great people at the George Institute through a four-year Early Career Fellowship from NHMRC and National Heart Foundation of Australia.

Janani Shanthosh: Being appointed as the Academic Lead of the Health and Human Rights Programme at UNSW’s Australian Human Rights Institute. My two-year secondment began this year, and I’m enjoying the opportunity to simultaneously work with and learn from my colleagues in public health, human rights and law.

Q: In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge today when it comes to public health? 

Hueiming Liu: We know that socio-determinants are central to everyone’s wellbeing, contributing to underlying inequity and therefore poor health outcomes. For example, intergenerational disadvantage resulting in poor mental health and competing priorities, or not engaging with care because of stigmatisation. These problems are complex, rooted in history, policies, societal collective mindset- and can often seem too ‘hard’.  I believe that for public health, the challenge is to bravely band together and work across sectors, and across disciplines to tackle this challenge.

Kathy Trieu: I recognise I'm biased but I do think improving the quality of diets on a population scale is a huge public health challenge. This is true in terms of health impact as suboptimal diets are the biggest risk for deaths worldwide. Addressing the problem of poor diets is complicated because eating behaviour and nutrition are influenced by several intertwining factors (culture, availability, accessibility, societal norms, environment and more) and often does not have immediate or visible health consequences, making it difficult for people (myself included!) to eat a healthy diet. There is also an increasing need to consider eating environmentally sustainable diets.

Janani Shanthosh: Generating political will to implement public health programs (including public health law and policy) that we know to be highly effective in improving health and social outcomes. This is particularly challenging where programs and legislative reforms are perceived to limit the influence of special interest groups and challenge the status quo.

Q: How did your career in health get started?

Hueiming Liu: I volunteered in nursing homes and schools for children with disabilities when I was in high school. These pivotal experiences created a lasting impression on me so, I decided to do a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery. During my medical electives, I was attached to different hospitals across China and to Aboriginal Medical Services. Subsequently, wanting to better understand health inequities in the context of complex health systems, I completed a Masters in International Public Health; during which I was attached to a HIV outreach clinic in Kampala, Uganda. These international experiences reinforced my desire to work in Global Health which as mentioned above, attracted me to George Institute in 2008.

Kathy Trieu: I studied a Bachelor degree in Nutrition combined with Exercise and Sports Science, which led me to nutrition work in a clinical setting. However, I quickly realised I wanted to try help improve people’s health on a larger scale and more efficiently. I consequently commenced a Master of Public Health during which I worked as a program leader on a childhood obesity prevention program. I was then offered a graduate role at the Federal Department of Health, which helped me understand the processes and administration of health policies. This also helped me recognise the influence of research and evidence on the policy selection, which subsequently prompted me to commence a career in health research at The George Institute.

Janani Shanthosh: In 2013 I undertook a Masters in International Public Health at the University of Sydney. It seemed crazy to many at the time, as my background is in law. While studying, I began working for The George Institute first with Prof Maree Hackett and then with Prof Stephen Jan with whom I am currently based. 

Q: What have you been working on since submitting your PhD?

Hueiming Liu: I currently lead the Process Evaluation stream at TGI. As such, my work includes building capacity in TGI to conduct process evaluations by providing guidance and support to others conducting process evaluations, facilitating knowledge exchange of our lessons to advance how we can improve, and providing teaching and training workshops. I am involved in several process evaluations e.g. in Australia (Their Future Matters), Bangladesh (CIVIC trial), China (ROADMAP, INTERACT 3, SASS) and in India (REACH), and have travelled to conduct field work, and provide training. 

Kathy Trieu: I have been fortunate to be able to work with two fantastic teams at the George Institute after my PhD– the Food Policy team and the Public Health Policy and Advocacy Impact team. I have been expanding my research skills in health impact modelling to inform the selection of the most effective salt reduction policies and interventions, as well as undertaking interim process evaluations to inform necessary adaptations to the implementation of salt reduction interventions in real time. In addition, through my fellowship, I am examining population strategies that jointly lower sodium and increase potassium consumption, as it may be a more feasible and efficient approach to lowering blood pressure and cardiovascular risk, however it is currently under-researched and under-implemented. 

Janani Shanthosh: My post-PhD work involves a number of areas at the intersection of health systems and international human rights including a rights-based approach to a sustainable global health workforce and non-communicable disease prevention and the law.