When Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health, Professor Alison Jones, was also appointed as UOW’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Health Strategy) in April, the appointment turned heads in Australian university circles.
While a Pro Vice-Chancellor (Health) is not unheard of, a Pro Vice-Chancellor (Health Strategy) is unique. It implies purpose and action rather than a traditional figurehead role.
But what is this health strategy and what drives the academic spearheading it?
Born to a Welsh family, Alison Jones recalls her early childhood days when relatives told her that free and universal health care was not taken for granted.
“I remember my grandmother talking about a half shilling left on the mantelpiece for the doctor (GP) prior to the NHS.
“You could lose a child to pneumonia or other treatable illnesses for want of a half-shilling – the equivalent of two and a half pence – to pay for a doctor.
"The unacceptable nature of that and other childhood experiences has given me a deep commitment to social justice that I think is important in everything I do.
“I told myself and my family early on that access to medical care should not be dependent on one’s ability to pay or where you live and I felt the need to do something about that.”
Professor Jones has fulfilled her commitment. She attended the prestigious King Edward's School and became the first in her family to attend university, studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland before training as a specialist toxicologist and becoming Head of Medicine at London’s Guy and St Thomas Hospital and Director of London's National Poisons Service.
I told myself and my family early on that access to medical care should not be dependent on one's ability to pay or where you live and I felt the need to do something about that.
Having previously spent a year in Australia – which she describes as a ‘toxicological wonderland’ for its array of poisonous snakes and spiders – Professor Jones welcomed the opportunity to return in 2006. She came to UOW as Dean of the Graduate School of Medicine in 2011 and was appointed Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health in 2013.
Professor Jones also practices general medicine at Wollongong Hospital, clinical toxicology at Blacktown Hospital and advises the NSW and Commonwealth governments on toxicology issues.
“It’s easy to become absorbed in the university setting and potentially lose context. I love to stay connected to frontline medical practice and patient care and to research into practice.
“Medical science needs to go from the laboratory benchtop to the bedside and into our communities," Professor Jones said.
High quality underpinning science, top quality training of students and graduates and translating leading edge research into patient care is at the core of UOW’s Health and Wellbeing Strategy.
“As a team we are positioning UOW to tackle global health challenges while applying our research and teaching capabilities to community health needs in a way that also develops new healthcare models.
“Our local communities will be the first beneficiaries, but we expect to influence medical science and care more broadly,” Professor Jones said.
The multi-faceted strategy is being progressively rolled out over several years.
MIND the GaP
Announced in December 2015 under the Commonwealth's Stronger Regions funding initiative, the Mental Illness in Nowra District-Goals and Prevention (MIND the GaP) facility at UOW’s Shoalhaven Campus provides spaces for education, training, therapy and outreach services run by UOW and partner organisations.
Its aim of improving mental health and wellbeing, especially suicide prevention for the Shoalhaven has been welcomed in a region experiencing one of Australia’s worst teen suicide rates.
South Western Sydney’s urban population and NSW’s regional communities face a medium and long term challenge: a lack of trained nurses. While Sydney’s rapid population growth leaves a health system with increasing pressures, the inability to provide local nursing training in regional NSW is compounded by difficulties attracting nursing graduates back to regional areas after moving to city centres.
UOW has expanded its well-regarded nursing training program by building new teaching facilities at its Bega Campus in southern NSW and is establishing the Western Sydney Nursing Education and Research (WeSNER) facility in Liverpool.
The nurse learning and training centre at Bega was officially opened in March 2016 and is augmenting the supply of trained nurses and supporting local professional development.
WeSNER was announced by NSW Premier and Minister for Western Sydney, the Hon Mike Baird MP, in May while launching UOW’s South Western Sydney Campus in Liverpool. Commencing postgraduate teaching in 2017, it will establish a Bachelor of Nursing program in 2019 – subject to accreditation. WeSNER will be a platform for collaborative research partnerships as well as providing clinical nursing services.
Rural Medical Training Network
Like their nursing shortages, NSW regional, rural and remote communities also face a lack of specialist doctors. When young country doctors move to cities for specialist training, life commitments soon see would-be rural specialists embedded in city practices.
The proposed Rural and Regional Postgraduate Medical Training Network would build on the Graduate School of Medicine’s existing regional hubs to support the development of a postgraduate medical workforce in situ. If it attracts Commonwealth funding it will better support medical training by delivering educational advantage to improve patient care and provide best practice health leadership in remote communities.
Innovation Campus Health and Wellbeing Precinct
In November, UOW called for Expressions of Interest for a partner to help develop a thriving Health and Wellbeing Precinct on its Innovation Campus.
Located minutes from Wollongong’s CBD, the proposed Innovation Campus Health and Wellbeing Precinct will comprise an integrated research and learning environment, and health and aged care facilities, while retaining the connection to the local bushland, parks and green spaces that have become such a vital part of the campus.
The precinct will complement existing health services in the Illawarra by offering non-surgical care focused on preventative health issues and maintaining overall health and wellbeing.
In addition, the Health and Wellbeing Precinct will include supporting retail, childcare and commercial facilities with the aim of creating a supportive and inclusive health environment for the Illawarra community. The non-surgical facilities will be used to undertake health and wellbeing research that will benefit existing healthcare services and health promotion activities in the region.
The aged care services envisaged for the precinct include high-quality independent seniors’ living on the conveniently-located beachside campus as well as advanced research and training into this essential and growing health care area.
“Having active clinical researchers on site is fundamental to delivering the best quality healthcare to the community.
“And by incorporating a teaching and learning environment, we are training the next generation of health professionals,” Professor Jones said.
While other initiatives address immediate community health needs, Molecular Horizons: UOW's Centre for Molecular and Life Sciences will be redefining medical science into health discoveries for the long term.
This $80 million multi-disciplinary research centre – UOW’s biggest ever self-funded research infrastructure investment – will be dedicated to illuminating how life works at a molecular level and solving some of the biggest health challenges facing the world today.
To be located at the centre of a medical science precinct at UOW’s Wollongong Campus, it will draw together world-leading researchers in a collaborative space equipped with state-of-the-art facilities including the highly sophisticated Titan Krios cryo-electron microscope – one of only a handful in the world, and only the second in Australia.
“Molecular Horizons demonstrates the University’s commitment to impact-driven research where the world’s best molecular research will be put into practice to improve and save lives.
“It is the capstone of a strategy that expresses our sense of purpose,” Professor Jones said.
You could say that in the Health and Wellbeing Strategy, both Professor Jones and UOW have ‘found their why’.
Professor Alison Jones
Bachelor of Medical Sciences (Biochemistry) (Hons), University of Edinburgh 1986
Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery, University of Edinburgh 1989
Doctor of Medicine (by Research), University of Edinburgh 1996
FRCPE, FRCP, CBiol FRSB, FRACP, FACMT, FAACT