RACP Fellows in Focus: Dr Stephanie Williams

Date published:
04 Mar 2022

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Dr Stephanie Williams is a Public Health Physician and Epidemiologist. Stephanie is Australia’s Ambassador for Regional Health Security and Principal Health Adviser for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In this role, she helps advance Australia’s interests by ensuring Australia’s world-class public health and medical research expertise is used for the good of our region, with a particular focus on the Pacific Island countries, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste. Most recently, she was a Medical Adviser in the Office of Health Protection in the Australian Government Department of Health. She has provided clinical and technical advice to support health responses to communicable diseases, natural disasters and terrorist events, shaped national communicable disease control policy, emergency response planning and strategic engagement with research for policy outcomes.

When we spoke with her earlier in the year, Stephanie began by telling us,

“I actually didn't know that you could be a specialist in public health medicine back in 2007!”

“I had enrolled in my Master of Applied Epidemiology at the Australian National University, after having had two years in the field doing population and public health, in the Northern Territory and Uganda. And, upon enrolling, a friend and colleague said, “why don't you do your public health medicine specialty?” I didn't know anything about the training program, but as he described it to me, it made sense. My applied epidemiology training was recognised for the public health medicine training. So, I thought, why not? At that time no one really knew what a public health physician was or what they did, but that's not a problem in 2021.”

With such a broad and complex role with many intricate layers, we wanted to know what skills Stephanie felt the most important skills for success were. She explained,

“The ability to distil a multitude of very complex factors behind any particular public health issue or problem down to something that you can solve or understand and conceptualise is paramount.”

“Broadly as a specialty, what public health practitioners bring is an understanding of how systems, processes and people need to work for our collective wellbeing. How you actually make it work. One of the defining skills of public health medicine done well is being able to see the ‘whole’ and all parts of the institutional architecture, if it's done well.” 

Stephanie went on to describe how her role and her participation within the college has had a positive impact upon healthcare.

“My principal involvement has been as a workplace supervisor for Faculty trainees. I supervise advanced trainees as their workplace supervisor. Finding new pathways for public health trainees to be part of international health efforts, as well as domestic health efforts.”

She offered some important advice for the trainees.

“Walk your own path. I think in public health medicine, breadth is hugely valuable. Working across different settings in which public health is practised. The new trainees are well across this, but you have a very narrow path in medicine which leads predictably to specific rotations toward clinical specialties. By contrast, as a public health trainee, the scope of the potential training positions is huge and can be overwhelming. Know yourself and choose the things that really interest you versus modelling what others have done because it is your pathway that is the right one.”

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