Professor Julie Redfern
University of Sydney
23 August 2022

Professor Julie Redfern is a clinician-researcher and Research Academic Director (Researcher Development, Output and Impact) in the Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Sydney and a practicing physiotherapist. She received the 2021 Elizabeth Blackburn Investigator Grant Award - Health Services (Leadership) for her work transforming post-discharge care for people with heart disease and modernising the delivery of cardiac rehabilitation.

For me, this award signifies that hard work, perseverance, resilience and life balance over many years pays off. As an allied health professional and single parent who juggles clinical work, job insecurity and parenting, I never have thought I was capable of being awarded such an honour. This award represents the culmination of years of research, developing my leadership, building collaborations and harnessing my personal motivation and creativity.

Professor Julie Redfern with NHMRC Chair Professor Caroline Homer.

The current focus of my research is modernising secondary prevention for people living with heart disease to improve their health outcomes. I am achieving this through transformation of systems, implementation of digital health interventions and capacity building. My research is program is supported by a NHMRC Synergy Grant known as SOLVE-CHD. This grant is enabling, for the first time, a unified approach. This area is important because cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death and disease burden globally. It is responsible for over one million hospital admissions and one-fifth of all deaths in Australia every year. It is also responsible for 11-12 per cent of Australians total health expenditure.

In pursuit of better care for more patients, my research is transforming healthcare and outcomes such that research, guidelines, systems of care and stakeholders are now focused on a more lifelong, individualised approach with renewed emphasis on the 70-80 per cent who do not attend traditional cardiac rehabilitation programs. First and foremost, my research will benefit patients who experience heart disease. Of course, it will also benefit the wider community, health services and governments as it ultimately improves health outcomes and system efficiencies at the population level.

I chose this area of research because working as a physiotherapist in cardiac rehabilitation (pre-2004) I saw first-hand the limitations of this traditional model of care. I subsequently pursued a research career to implement innovation and increase access for those patients who do not attend traditional programs. I like the concept of finding solutions and I like to take a patient-centred approach. This has been critical for tackling this complex area. I also like to mentor the next generation and collaborate with health professionals of all clinical areas, stakeholders, patients and everyone in-between.

For me, the key drivers to research success have been taking things one step at a time and not putting too much pressure on myself. Taking opportunities as they arise and being resilient and having a long-term approach. Another key driver is to ensure my research is high quality in terms of study design and implementation. In addition to seeing changes in clinical practice and improvements for more patients, I enjoy supporting the next generation. My personal statement is “I thrive by inspiring others” and I think this has been a key driver of success for me. It has allowed me to expand my research program and work with new people.

My advice, to early career researchers is to align yourself with a supportive team and great supervisors. Seek out people who want to be collaborative and support a growth culture within a team environment. This can be tricky but I think it is really important. I feel I was lucky. I was mentored by wonderful people who supported me in a variety of ways in my early years. People who taught me about mentorship, leadership whilst also conducting high quality research. A final thought, although science and creativity are not always considered an ideal pairing, in my experience, creativity is the essential ingredient that enables innovation and problem-solving that is both impactful and meaningful.

Find out more about the 2021 NHMRC Research Excellence Awards.