World Cancer Day: Pioneering public health

Changing public perceptions to help fight cancer

Meet the UOW graduates whose passion and purpose is a driving force behind bettering public health

For World Cancer Day (4 February) we caught up with UOW alumni making waves in helping lower the alarming cancer statistics plaguing Australia.

Maddison Naulty

Maddison Naulty has achieved a lot in the six years since graduating with a Bachelor of Public Health from UOW.  

During her degree she was a member of the Illawarra Public Health Society, where she became president in her final year. She also completed an experiential work placement at the Heart Foundation, evaluating the effectiveness of UOW’s then novel smoke-free policy, which she credits with helping guide her towards her current role as Assistant Director of Lung and Pancreatic Cancer Initiatives at Cancer Australia.  

“In hindsight, I can see how this early experience researching tobacco policy was the pre-curser to my career I have now, where I have a role in developing and implementing national cancer policy.” 

Since graduating, Maddison has worked in a range of public health roles, including as a health promotion officer in palliative care, and more recently Cancer Australia, where she has progressed to an assistant director position whilst still early in her career, and is already hitting career milestones. 

A woman with dark hair is wearing a white top and black blazer. She is standing in an office, smiling.

“I was part of the team who did work to determine the feasibility of a potential Lung Cancer Screening Program in Australia. This was one of the key pieces of work which informed the Australian Government’s decision in May 2023 to introduce a National Lung Cancer Screening Program in Australia by mid-2025 - the first new national cancer screening program in nearly 20 years,” she says. 

“I feel so proud of what was achieved by everyone involved and the lives that will be saved through the program.” 

Looking back on her time at UOW, she feels grateful for the opportunities she was given, and advises other students to “take every opportunity as it comes, and not worry about needing to follow one certain path.” 

“My studies and experiences at UOW were crucial in shaping my career, and I am always so grateful reflecting on my time at UOW. I found UOW to be a safe and supportive place to explore a diverse range of career options and led me to find the career I was passionate to pursue,” she says. 

Michelle Aquilina

With a Master of Management and an MBA from the University of Wollongong (UOW), Michelle has had an illustrious career as a leader in the health sector.  

“My career journey has been a deliberate progression, setting incremental personal goals and a commitment to achieving them. This combined with passion and dedication have been the driving forces that has enabled me to lead and navigate organisations through triumphant highs and challenging tribulations,” she says. 

In 2021, Michelle was appointed CEO of MoleMap, a skin cancer detection and treatment service with more than 100 clinics across Australia and New Zealand, a position she was drawn to due to her personal connections with cancer.  

A woman in a blue blazer is standing in an office with her arms crossed, smiling

“This decision stems from a genuine commitment to contribute meaningfully to the reduction of the burden of cancer - specifically skin cancer, where thousands of Australians are diagnosed each year, coupled with alarming statistics of melanoma diagnosis and related fatalities,” says Michelle.  

“Becoming an integral part of a collective effort to elevate sun safety and save lives for our current and future generations. This purpose deepens my commitment to research and development, particularly within my role as CEO at MoleMap.” 

Reflecting on her time at UOW, Michelle says her experience helped prepare her for a distinguished career.  

“UOW provided more than just theoretical knowledge, it instilled real-world and modern practices through experienced lecturers spanning diverse industries. The principles learned at UOW continue to serve me as a framework for analysis and strategic techniques that have proven exceptionally useful throughout my career,” she says. 

Honorary Professor Tanya Buchanan

While growing up in Perth and completing a degree in literature and drama, Tanya found a passion for social justice and health. She went on to study nursing and an MBA in health services and soon rose through the ranks of the public health sector in a range of roles. She spent six years at the Australian Red Cross, before being appointed CEO of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Wales, and later executive director of the International Association for Public Participation Australasia.

In 2012, after spending much of her career focused on the effects of tobacco, Tanya began her PhD at UOW, with a thesis on Australian tobacco control.  

“The PhD was an opportunity to combine something I’m passionate about with the work I’d done at ASH and the Thoracic Society to influence policy change. I enjoyed the process of learning new skills; it was a whole new way of writing and reading and understanding and learning to be confident in your research,” she says.  

A woman is standing in a blue and red graduation gown and black doctorate graduate hat on the UOW lawn.

Now, Tanya is CEO of Cancer Council Australia, where she has successfully delivered major national public health campaigns including the award-winning Get2It National Bowel Cancer Screening Campaign and advocated to secure Government and community support for evidence-based best practice cancer policy. 

In 2022, she was appointed an honorary professor at UOW, in recognition of her leadership in public health and outstanding contribution to academia and professional practice and continues to publish and remain actively involved in research. 

“Prevention of cancer is a real area of focus for me as is ensuring equity of outcomes. Australia has world leading cancer outcomes but unfortunately, they are not experienced equally by all Australians,” she says.  

“That’s why this year’s theme for World Cancer Day is so important, as it highlights the need to close the cancer care gap.” 

She reflects on her time at UOW and how it has shaped her career.  

“My time at UOW helped me to develop skills that are obviously applicable in my day job, but it also brought a rich network of very clever and committed people into my world.”