Amy Vassallo

Dr Amy Vassallo: On a mission to end gender-based bias in health research

Amy Vassallo is a Research Fellow within the Global Women’s Health Program at The George Institute. She has a Bachelor of Medical Science, Masters of Community Health and Development, and PhD in Epidemiology. She has professional experience in government, health policy advice and health service delivery.

“I feel like more of a generalist than a specialist, always curious about lots of different health content areas. I’ve worked across a range of population heath issues before joining The George, including chronic disease management, palliative care services, immunisation policy, injury prevention and cancer epidemiology.” 

Amy’s current research focuses on understanding sex and gender-based blindness and bias within health and medical research, and evidence-based approaches to addressing these gaps, including policy reform. She is closely involved in The Institute’s commitment to adopt and advance a gendered approach to current and future research. She recently led the effort to organise a Stakeholder Forum for sex and gender policies in medical research work. Almost 50 stakeholders including researchers, clinicians, policy makers, advocates and community organisations attended. They discussed barriers and facilitators for the development and implementation of policies for the collection, analysis and reporting of sex and gender data in health and medical research in the Australian context.

The key takeaways from this constructive dialogue will be incorporated into future research and strategic priorities of The Institute.

In recognition of her recent work, Amy has been awarded a fellowship by ZonMW - a Dutch organisation of health care research and innovation. This Gender in Research Fellowship has opened doors to valued opportunities and networks across borders.

“Through this Fellowship I also been able to access a workshop series on sex and gender in health research from leading international experts in this field. While we can’t travel to Europe, participation requires 2am zoom calls but I’m enjoying connecting with early career researchers and experts from around the world.”

Amy joined The George Institute in late 2020. Joining a new organisation during a pandemic meant learning and adapting to a new culture of working, and very quickly. But she says it hasn’t been all negative, especially in a country like Australia, fortunate to have been spared the ravages of the virus seen elsewhere. 

“It was certainly a challenge starting in a new organisation during COVID lockdowns and the transition back to face to face. I’ve still not had the opportunity to meet many of the people I work closest with in person! While there are substantial challenges and biases, there are also pros to this new era of flexible work. Virtual seminars and training courses have also increased accessibility of learning opportunities, and I have taken advantage of these over the past 12 months.”

Ironically, in this environment of limited social interactions, one of the things that Amy has taken to most at The Institute are her colleagues.

“The people are one of the things I like best about working here. Everyone is fiercely intelligent and passionate about their work; I learn something new in every conversation. Another of my favourite parts about working at The George are the many opportunities to step outside the traditional confines of an academic research role. Like contributing to Pre-Budget submissions, writing blogs or participating in the new Emerging Thought Leadership Program.”

The Emerging Thought Leadership Program is a unique initiative at The Institute to develop selected researchers to help them share insights, expand the reach of their research, and drive impact to influence and inspire others to action. Amy will now join that group for a 12-month program, which supports promising researchers amplify their research to new audiences via novel platforms and emerge as thought leaders in their respective research fields.  For Amy, that is the area of promoting gender-inclusive research methodologies.

“I am inspired by the global momentum growing for women’s health and equality.”

This passion spills over into Amy’s personal interests as well.

“I’ve recently joined two book clubs - including the #STEMMinist Book Club! Each month I also curate a monthly newsletter for Franklin Women, a social enterprise for women working in health and medical research. It’s a really fun way to keep up with relevant sector news and learn about fantastic research work being conducted by inspiring women. A lot of personal interests and hobbies have fallen by the wayside over the past year. But a 2021 resolution of mine is to move and read every day.”