Alumni Spotlight: Meet Tambri Housen, 2016 Graduate of the Australia Field Epidemiology Training Program and Research Fellow with the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at Australian National University
By Tina Rezvani, Communications Manager, TEPHINET
Tambri, thank you for agreeing to be featured in our TEPHIConnect Alumni Spotlight series. I had the fortune of meeting you when you were a poster presenter (and a photo contest winner!) during our 2017 FETP International Nights. There, you presented your work on estimating the prevalence of anxiety, depression and PTSD in the Kashmir Valley. Can you tell us more about this work?
My field placement for my field epidemiology training was with Médecins Sans Frontières in India. During this time, I led this study in Kashmir, which was a collaboration between Médecins Sans Frontières, the Department of Psychology at Kashmir University and the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Kashmir. We conducted a large cross-sectional household survey in 399 villages across all 10 districts of the Kashmir Valley to provide baseline estimates of mental distress in the population. Many of the stakeholders working in mental health in the Valley were concerned about the impact the protracted conflict had had on the population and although small targeted studies had been conducted this was the first State-wide study. For me, the significance of this study was in the use of mixed-methods. We also conducted 20 focus groups, one with men and one with women in each of the 10 districts – these focus group discussions provided important insight into how Kashmiri’s perceived mental health and what they would like to see implemented to support improved mental health in their communities. This study demonstrated to me that a robust epidemiological study that looks at numbers and statistics alone will have limited impact without the engagement of the communities in deciding the public health action that will be of benefit to them
What are you working on now?
I am now working on a few projects.
I am looking at cultural engagement during emergency response and how international and national responders can strengthen engagement with local populations.
I am interested in how we can strengthen health systems and build the capacity of the health work-force in countries affected by disasters so that they are equipped to effectively respond to and manage future events.
I am part of a team working with the Papua New Guinea FETP on piloting a 2 year FET program which will commence in 2019.
I am also working with the Pakistan FELTP to conduct a similar mental health study to the one mentioned above, in Azad Jammu and Kashmir Pakistan.
What is your current role with the Australia FETP?
I am a Research Fellow on the Australian FETP, the Masters of Philosophy in Applied Epidemiology Program, which has long been known as the MAE program. In this role I convene course blocks, revise and develop curriculum for course blocks, supervise MAE scholars on the program and engage with organizations working in population health to seek out opportunities for our scholars to gain a variety of field epidemiology experiences during their training. We, as a team, are very excited to be able to offer placements on the program to candidates from ASEAN countries in 2019 and to offer a few Australian scholars with the experience of doing one year of their MAE in an ASEAN country. This is due to funding we have received from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) which will cover tuition costs, travel to and from course block and provide a stipend for students during their training. Welcoming scholars from ASEAN countries will not only provide a rich learning experience for everyone during course block by adding diversity to the discussions but will also help the Australian MAE build stronger partnerships and relationships in our region.
How does the Australia FETP engage with its alumni, and why is it important to do so?
We engage with our alumni with regular emails that contain short updates on the program and jobs that are being advertised in the field of population health and epidemiology, upcoming training and conferences. We recently sent out a survey to our alumni and asked them how they would like to be engaged. The feedback we received was that they appreciated the regular emails and updates, so these will continue.
We also ask alumni to teach into course blocks, this is a great way of exposing scholars to the breadth of work that graduates undertake and keeps our alumni connected with the program.
The alumni provides a network of professional contacts who have all been through the same training and know the foundational knowledge that all graduates of the program have. Our alumni now work in diverse areas of population health internationally and nationally. Staying connected is important as it also helps us stay current and ensure the programming is evolving with changing requirements in the workplace.
What was the most important thing you learned from your FETP experience?
That field epidemiology is exciting!! No two projects are ever the same. The methodology and principles may be the same but the context and situation is always unique. This makes working in field epidemiology very exciting. The FETP training demonstrated that numbers and statistics may be powerful changers of policy, however transformation only comes with engagement with communities.
I also took with me the knowledge that the relationships you develop during your training are ones that stay with you. I remain in regular contact with those I trained with and we support each other as we navigate our careers post graduation.
As a TEPHIConnect user, what do you hope to gain from this platform?
I see this platform as an opportunity for FETP graduates to network and link in with each other and with what is happening in FETPs globally. I also see this platform as a forum for posting job opportunities for graduates and other relevant opportunities.
As a faculty member on an FETP I would like to see this platform as a potential site where we can share curriculum, case studies and ideas on the future development of field epidemiology training globally, including shorter FET programs.
What makes you most proud in your career?
Two things stand out for me in this regard; firstly when I see someone applying the knowledge they have gained into practice and secondly when I see projects that I have worked on have a translational impact on public health practice.
In general, what advice would you give other recent FETP graduates?
The scope of work you can become involved in as an FETP graduate is extremely broad. An FETP provides a great foundation for work in population health, take some time to find out what you are passionate about and then bring this into your day to day work. And don’t be afraid to step out and try something new.
Tambri is a member of TEPHIConnect. Other members can get in touch with her here.