PhD student during graduation 2022

CEO of Cancer Council juggles work, academia and family

CEO of Cancer Council juggles work, academia and family

For Tanya Buchanan, a PhD in public health crowns more than a decade of working in health and tobacco control

Even before starting her PhD at the University of Wollongong (UOW) in 2012, Dr Tanya Buchanan worked hard to reduce smoking rates in both the UK and Australia.

"I’ve always been committed to public health and the fact that tobacco smoking is still a major health challenge as well as a leading cause of preventable ill-health and death is something that has motivated my career. Even though the levels of smoking in Australia are low, we can hasten their decline and prevent smoking-related illnesses through comprehensive approaches to tobacco control," Dr Buchanan said.

"Sadly, though, government spending on tobacco control has declined remarkably in recent years."

Dr Buchanan’s PhD thesis at UOW, written under the supervision of School of Psychology’s Professor Peter Kelly and IHMRI’s Associate Professor Christopher Magee, analyses policy responses towards a group that is known as 'hardcore smokers', in other words, smokers who cannot or don’t want to quit smoking.

"After a decade of research and policy analysis, I can say that idea that Australian smokers are becoming more unwilling or unable to quit is deeply inaccurate,” Dr Buchanan said.

"We should be doing more to prevent people from starting to smoke and to support those who are smokers to quit. We know that almost all smokers start as children or early adolescents. So, it's not an informed decision they make but an addiction they develop.”

Dr Tanya Buchanan was born in Northern Ireland but has made Australia her home. As a highly driven person, she’s always had a passion for learning and aiming high, even though – in her own words – she was one of those graduates who left high school not set on one particular career pathway.

Despite this internal struggle, she went on to achieve great things.

Dr Buchanan obtained a first-class honours degree in English and Comparative Literature. Later, she ­­did a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing, and went on to work in oncology and neurosurgery.

She has worked in health, universities and the volunteer sector before joining Cancer Council Australia in November 2020 as their CEO.

One of Dr Buchanan’s great strengths has been her leadership quality. She led organisations to improve health outcomes via her roles as Chief Executive Officer of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) in Wales and Chief Executive Officer of the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand.

Her PhD will complete the list of other titles and vocational qualifications, including an MBA in Health Services Administration.

"Between my family and a responsible, busy job, writing this thesis has been a labour of love that filled my evenings and weekends. It’s been hard but also very rewarding, as I got the chance to learn many new things on the way,” Dr Buchanan said.