Public Health: Brigid Ryan

Studying public health gave Brigid Ryan the confidence to expand her horizons and enhance her important work in mental health care in Australia and internationally.

Brigid R

Working in a Papua New Guinea health clinic opened Brigid Ryan’s eyes to the way health services can improve many lives by providing care and information on a wide scale. This inspired her to complete further study and apply it to her work.

Now a Project Manager at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne, Brigid graduated with a Master of Public Health in 2013. Her studies enhanced her knowledge and enabled her to take her career to the next level.

Why the University of Melbourne?

I was working in Papua New Guinea in a health clinic through Australian Volunteers International’s program and realised that people’s lives were impacted by the way our health services shared information, offered health care, and had philosophical discussions about our resource allocations.

I wanted specific skills in systemic change and a better understanding of some basic foundations of health care. I returned to Melbourne and enrolled in the Master of Public Health.

What are your strongest memories of university?

I was working full time while studying, so Wednesday afternoons were a block of lectures and tutorials, all lined up together. From 12-8pm in the middle of the week, I went from class to class to class, stuffing things into my head like a stocking.

At the end of the evening, I would walk home full of ideas and experiences, of stories of community and family, how we interact in other people’s lives, and what was most important for health and wellbeing. It was such a buzz.

My other best memory was a Primary Health Care residential course held in Jamkhed, rural India. The lectures and wide-ranging discussions with Dr Aroles and the Jamkhed health workers have had a profound and lasting impact on my own work.

What goals did you set yourself and have you stuck to that plan?

After finishing university, I wanted to use my public health approaches in my work. I have gained so much courage from my studies, and I think I am a more confident person when I do stick to that plan. Often the work can seem challenging and overwhelming but the resources that I have from my studies remain a source of encouragement and empowerment.

Who motivated you at university?

I was very motivated by the lecturers and guest speakers. I loved seeing the kinds of work that public health practitioners do, and the wide variety of stories that people in health services share with each other. I also loved reading the foundational texts and the pioneers of public health thinking.

Tell us more about your role and how university helped you prepare for it.

I work as a Program Manager with St Vincent’s Mental Health International Unit, and co-ordinate a unique program called the Postgraduate Overseas Specialist Training (POST) program. This program focuses on training, capacity-building, and fostering international collaborations in community mental health and recovery.

My studies have helped me to be both more flexible and more coherent as a project manager.

They helped me to make sense of my work, and to build a coherent role. Since my studies, I have worked with health workers from the Asia Pacific region in the areas of community mental health and rehabilitation, HIV/AIDS, and prevention of violence against women, which are all really broad areas of health care.

What advice do you have for current students?

Public health is a really broad area to study. If the courses or subjects that you choose animate and motivate you, chances are that you’re on the right path.

What are some career highlights so far and what’s next?

Highlights include speaking at conferences, being involved in international training with partners in Malaysia, Indonesia, Fiji, Kiribati, and Hong Kong. With the changes to travel globally, we have been offered new opportunities with telehealth, including being a member of the Creating Futures conference organising committee for the first ever online Pacific conference.

I am so excited to be involved in telehealth, and specifically being part of the Project Echo global movement. Access to equitable, high-quality learning and support through this inclusive, non-hierarchical philosophy is offering sustainable and profound change for our program.

What is your driving force?

Connections with people. I work in mental health with a dedicated and highly skilled group of professionals, and on projects that are truly fascinating. With the international projects, my work is constantly finding new and innovative ways to support people to take care of their mental health, and to live lives to their full potential.