Promoting public health and rural practice a focus for Notre Dame academic

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Professor Donna Mak won the 2011 AFPHM President's Award for her commitment to advancing the faculty's education, training and assessment activities.

29 June 2011

Giving medical students an insight into working in regional Western Australia and being an effective advocate for public health have earned Notre Dame academic, Professor Donna Mak, recognition from the Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine (AFPHM).

Professor Mak, Head of Population Health and Preventive Health at the School of Medicine in Fremantle, was the winner of the 2011 AFPHM President’s Award for her commitment to advancing the faculty’s education, training and assessment activities.

In a medical career spanning more than 25 years, Professor Mak has inspired many young doctors’ interest in public health medicine fields, such as disease prevention and community health, and in rural and remote area practice.

She also played a major role in establishing the John Snow Scholarship for the AFPHM in 2009, which aims to improve the profile of public health among medical students.

The scholarship is named after one of the founding fathers of public health, Dr John Snow, who discovered that cholera was spread by contaminated water. 

His studies led him to stop a cholera epidemic in the Soho district of London in 1854 by removing the handle of the Broad St pump, preventing the flow of polluted water into the community from the River Thames.

Students who receive the scholarship have an opportunity to present their work in public health at a national conference, and have it published in a peer-reviewed journal.

“The reason for establishing the scholarship is that public health has a low profile among many medical students and there aren’t many employment positions available for junior doctors in public health medicine,” Professor Mak said.

“If we can sow that seed of public health interest in medical students it will bode well, not just for public health, but for the whole medical profession because we need doctors in all fields to appreciate what public health has to offer.”

Before arriving at The University of Notre Dame Australia in 2003, Professor Mak spent 11 years working in the Kimberley as a general practitioner in Fitzroy Crossing and a public health physician in Derby.

One of her most recognisable achievements in the State’s far-north was establishing a public health medicine training program for junior medical staff. This is still the only program of its kind in Australia, although there are plans to extend it to the Midwest and Goldfields regions in 2012.

The School of Medicine curriculum at the Fremantle Campus requires all students to undertake rural and remote area health and cultural immersions as part of their degree.

“One of the most rewarding things about working in rural and remote areas is that as a doctor you get the chance to be part of that community and have a close, caring relationship with your patients,” Professor Mak said.

“I think students should realise that if they work hard and for the good of the community, they should be able not just to follow, but to live, their dream – as I am doing right now.”

Dean of the School of Medicine, Professor Gavin Frost, said Professor Mak was passionate and enthusiastic about public health and had quietly but effectively inspired many young doctors to enter public health medicine.


Media Contact: Leigh Dawson (+61) 8 9433 0569, Mob (+61) 0405 441 093


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