Interview - Dr Lavinia Perumal

Dr Lavinia Perumal

The thing that I enjoy most about Public Health is the flexibility and diversity of the work that comes with this specialisation. From working among academics at universities to working with health protection officers at public health units, there is a wealth of experience to be gained.

In Public Health you get to meet with and learn from a vast variety of people. This specialty promotes and actively encourages trainees to attend as many educational opportunities as possible. This includes compulsory national training days, annual scientific meetings, and learning workshops. The registrars also organise a monthly training session where public health professionals are invited to teach the registrars on important topics.

I chose this speciality as I see my career in it as constantly evolving. My choice of work sites is diverse and I can carve my own niche area within the specialty based on my interest in a public health topic.

I am also a firm believer in promoting health and preventing disease by creating an environment that allows people to make the right decisions. Public health allows me to focus on this up-stream part of health, rather than only focusing on the down-stream nature of providing acute care as needed.

It is recommended that applicants for the training scheme have at least two years post graduate experience before they apply. Ideally the training scheme prefers applicants to have several years of clinical experience before applying to the programme. Developing a mature outlook of the entire health system, promoting public health advocacy and health promotion, and reducing health inequities are essential parts of training. Current trainees have a diverse background that includes health research, paediatrics, general practice, general medicine, and psychiatry.

It is becoming increasingly competitive to gain entry into the training scheme. This is because there are only a fixed number of funded positions available each year. Public health medicine training in New Zealand is especially attractive as the Master of Public Health course (which is completed in the first 1.5 years of the scheme) is fully funded and basic trainees are eligible for a tax free grant during that time.

Advanced training (2.5 years) consists of rotating through a variety of work sites and completing several projects (on top of service related tasks). To some extent the projects trainees are involved in can be driven by our own interest and the New Zealand College of Public Health Medicine allows some negotiation on choice of projects and research. There is also the opportunity to complete a PhD in Epidemiology if a trainee decides to focus on becoming an epidemiologist as part of their training.

Common work sites in Auckland include the University of Auckland, the Auckland Regional Public Health Service, the Planning and Funding Departments at ADHB or WDHB, primary health organisations, the Northern DHB Support Agency, the Ministry of Health, and the National Heart Foundation.

My advice to a junior doctor wanting to move into Public Health is that it's helpful to talk and meet with public health medicine specialists and trainees to understand what the training programme and future work involves.

The skills that would be useful in this speciality include the ability to lead (but also be part of interdisciplinary teams), have excellent time management skills, and be an excellent communicator. Trainees should also be self motivated and able to work independently.

As the roles in public health are predominantly office based, trainees have to be comfortable at having little to no patient contact. However, there are aspects of the job that do involve going out into the community and making relationships and working with other organisations as well as community groups. Hence having the ability to network and be comfortable interacting with people from diverse walks of life are also helpful skills to have.

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