James Cook University’s Professor Maxine Whittaker has been awarded the Royal Australasian College of Physicians International Medal for 2017.
The prestigious Medal, which was presented at a ceremony in Melbourne last night (May 7) acknowledges the significant contribution Professor Whittaker has made to health care in low and middle income countries over many years.
Professor Whittaker is Dean, Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Sciences in the College of Public Health, Medical & Vet Sciences and the Deputy Director of the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) at James Cook University.
Professor Whittaker said she was “surprised, honoured and humbled” by the award.
“I didn’t know that I had been nominated, and to have been so by my peers, who are also international in their careers, is an honour,” she said.
“Humble, because so many people have contributed to my receiving this award – my family, my teachers and mentors, the people with whom I have worked at field, policy, service, management and community levels, and those who have and continue to inspire me.”
“I have been raised to believe in equity and human rights, and always saw health as being critical in that package. I knew at high school that I wanted to work on the big picture causes and solutions of health problems and inequities, but didn’t know at that time that was called public health nor that there was a career in that.”
Professor Whittaker has lived and worked in Bangladesh, Zambia, Zimbabwe and PNG and has worked extensively in China, Fiji, Indonesia, Kenya, Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tanzania, Thailand, Tonga, Vanuatu, and Vietnam, and other Pacific Island countries and territories. She has extensive experience in project and program design in health and development, especially in infectious diseases (including malaria) and reproductive health and health system reform for a variety of national governments, international development partners and NGO organisations.
Professor Whittaker said her inspiration for her work took hold early in her university studies.
“I studied medicine and remember the day that a Professor Schofield (JCU’s Professor Louis Schofield’s father) taught us public health – and I went home to my parents and said – ‘I can do what I want to do – there is a career that lets me do this’.”
Professor Whittaker has developed local research teams in Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Northern Queensland remote communities, and Vanuatu, and participated in the development of training materials and activities.
She is a member of faculty for the Science of Malaria Eradication course, part of a consortium of IS Global, Harvard School of Public Health and Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute. It is an intensive week-long leadership course that provides participants from around the world with tools to approach malaria elimination and eradication.
Professor Whittaker was educated at the University of Queensland, and the Harvard School of Public Health.
She has won numerous awards, including the Dr Jerusha Jhirad Oration Award, University of Queensland Short Fellowship, and is a Life Member of the International Federation of Medical Students Association and an Honorary Life Member of the Australian Medical Students Association.
Professor Whittaker said there were two major highlights of her career.
“I have seen the professional growth and success of my students, mentees and colleagues and this also inspires me. Seeing the sustainability of reforms in which I have been one of the players in developing, for example changes in health legislation, scaling up of family planning choices in a country, improved policy approaches to quality of services is another highlight.”
Professor Whittaker said she plans to continue her work at JCU.
“I will continue to strengthen the One Health Approach to address the sustainable development goals, growing the health system’s research capacity at JCU and in our partner networks in the tropical regions, and to work with my JCU colleagues to continue to address the strategic intent of the university.”
The RACP is the professional medical College of more than 15,000 physicians and 7,500 trainee physicians, often referred to as specialists, in Australia and New Zealand.
Photos of Professor Whittaker are available here: http://bit.ly/2oRJMyr