The COVID-19 pandemic has set Mackay Public Health Unit Senior Environmental Health Officer AnneMarie Farrelly on a new career trajectory.
AnneMarie has won a Health Heroes Scholarship to study a Master of Epidemiology at the University of Queensland.
Epidemiology is the study of how often diseases occur in different groups of people and why.
Epidemiological information is used to plan and evaluate strategies to prevent illness and as a guide to the management of patients in whom disease has already developed.
She was one of eight Queensland Health employees awarded scholarships as part of an initiative designed to future-proof the healthcare workforce.
AnneMarie said she was already enjoying the course.
“At the risk of sounding nerdy I’m loving biostatistics so far. I’ve always liked data and reporting but it’s enjoyable to get to the meaning of the numbers and what they really tell us,” she said.
Spending the past two years working on the COVID-19 response influenced the daunting decision to return to university.
“We hope not to see a pandemic like COVID-19 again, but when the opportunity to study came up I thought to myself now there is a skillset that would make me so much more prepared and confident for a future response.”
AnneMarie said throughout the pandemic the PHU had to step up to detect early, act fast, enforce fast and adapt fast.
“I have been challenged by the logistics of retrieving positive cases and close contacts from the islands, as well as taken part in lengthy and complex contact tracing and helped manage a rapid response to outbreaks in vulnerable settings
“I have to say the main thing I have enjoyed over the past two years is working with like-minded and motivated people across the health service and in the community, police and maritime safety.
“Normally as environmental health officers we have a varied regulatory and compliance role in areas of tobacco control, medicines and poisons, food safety, public health and water.
“We have always investigated notifiable conditions such as high blood lead levels and water or food borne illnesses / outbreaks.
“COVID-19 was just another notifiable condition, but the response was on steroids in comparison to a gastro outbreak at a childcare centre,” she said.
AnneMarie said she believed her new qualification will fill a gap in the Mackay PHU’s team.
“Despite being the smallest PHU in Queensland we provided a very significant and impactful response to the pandemic, and it would have been useful to have public health epidemiology skills inhouse.
“We relied on our colleagues to help us, and despite being under the pump they were amazing and helped us gain the intelligence on cases and the virus that we needed to have a targeted response locally.”