Noni Winkler knows the importance of being comfortable with complexity. Her desire to understand different perspectives inspired her to study a Graduate Certificate in Disaster and Refugee Health. This study led to her enrolling in a Master of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at James Cook University. She had decided to pursue postgraduate studies while in Cambodia.
“I was working in a hospital in Cambodia, managing the nursing department and helping them broaden their scope of practice,” she said. “I learnt a lot in Cambodia, and one of the things I learnt is that I still have so much to learn. It was a very humbling experience and I needed to come back and formalise and contextualise that experience in some formal education.”
Her passion for learning motivated her to complete the Master of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, which she graduated from in 2017. While undertaking full-time postgraduate studies involved taking on a large workload, Noni found that developing time management skills and learning to prioritise tasks helped her to succeed.
“I really liked studying the Graduate Certificate and wanted to keep going with it,” Noni said. “So I turned it into a Master’s degree. Every subject gives you one view of one angle of public health. When you study a Master’s degree all of those pieces come together to give you a rounded view of public health. When I think about a public health issue now, it is from many angles.”
Noni did some subjects in block mode, which gave her the chance to study intensively while connecting to other students. “I liked sinking my teeth deeply into one thing at a time,” she said. “You don’t have to switch between concepts, between epidemiology and refugee health to public health leadership subjects, so you can focus on one discipline at a time. Students in the Master of Public Health and Tropical Medicine have similar outlooks and values, they’re a cohort of likeminded people who are easy to get along with. I’ve stayed in contact with many of them.”
Since graduating, Noni’s work as a Remote Area Nurse has taken her from the Katherine West region in the Northern Territory to the Torres Strait and Cape York in Queensland. “The communities are really interesting,” she said. “It’s this whole side of Australian life that most people aren’t privy to, at all. This work involves a lot of public health concepts and I’m more effective in these environments with my background in public health and tropical medicine.”
Noni said the skills and knowledge she gained in postgraduate studies are applicable to her work and have provided her with a framework for examining different topics. When practicing direct patient care, she likes being able to see how her work fits into the bigger picture.
“Public health is at the centre of all other domains of life,” she said. “It’s a measure of democracy and politics and of how engaged people are in their political system. It’s a measure of food and agriculture. It’s a measure of how healthy the environment is. It’s a measure of equality and stability. It’s a measure of employment and education and all of the social determinants. Public health is concerned with everything, so it’s easy to be interested.”
Noni is looking to broaden her skills further and is exploring a future in epidemiology. She is hopeful the future can bring about change and that people and organisations can come together to tackle complex situations.
“One change I would like to see in the world is that more people become comfortable with and acknowledge the complexity and nuances of these subjects,” she said. “I would like to see that all of these domains are not thought of as silos that are unrelated, but rather as being connected.”