FEATURES

Grand designs make way for career in health research

Dan McAullay

Nursing and research wasn’t what Associate Professor Dan McAullay had in mind when he first began university but it was exactly where he was meant to end up.

Coming from rural and remote Western Australia, with limited opportunities, Dan—a Noongar man—enrolled in a university bridging course as a means to escape, starting his studies in architecture.

‘I wanted to go to uni to have a better future and wanted to do something interesting,’ Dan said.

‘The bridging course was great. It was a different and a very supportive environment compared to what I had at high school. University bridging courses are really important, particularly for kids in rural and remote areas.’

Starting in architecture was pretty daunting for Dan. After struggling through high school (although acing the bridging course) the thought of failing was too much, so he decided to move into nursing.

‘Nursing was originally a way to travel because when you’re a nurse you can get a job anywhere. I could work overseas and interstate. I liked that I could have the option of picking myself up and going anywhere with these skills. It turns out I wasn’t brave enough to do that so I stayed in Perth,’ Dan said.

‘It was also a job I could do whilst studying—thinking I would go back to architecture but I never did, because I actually quite liked nursing.

‘I liked the caring aspect. I enjoyed the people I worked with. I enjoyed the challenges. I just really enjoyed nursing.

‘I started working at the Aboriginal medical services as a community nurse and adored community nursing and loved working with community mob.’

It was during this time Dan got his first taste of research. He became involved in the Coordinated Care Project—testing a multi-disciplinary approach to improve the health and well-being of Aboriginal communities.

‘The deputy director at the time, Heather D’Antoine, approached another colleague and I about whether we wanted to apply for the Masters of Applied Epidemiology at the Australian National University. We were the first cohort that was researching Indigenous health,’ Dan said.

‘I applied and liked the project that I did. From then on I’ve been in research.’

Whilst Dan’s pathway into health and research was relatively problem free, he attributes his success to great mentorship.

‘I think it’s critical that young researchers have formal mentors, but also informal mentors—key people that they can approach when needed on a range of issues that may be coming up.’

Early on in Dan’s career, he met two highly influential and established female researchers who became his informal mentors, Professor Fiona Stanley and Professor Sandra Eades. Throughout his career they have continued to encourage, support and guide him in his research.

Dan also believes that health workers from all fields are great resources of information and support, as well as a form of networking. Connecting clinicians, community leaders, CEOs, and government individuals leads to being well informed and the best advice. 

Passing on his knowledge and networks is vital to being a great mentor and friend to new and curious researchers.

‘People have invested in me and I think it’s important I invest in other people,’ he said.

Dan’s work with NHMRC began over a decade ago in developing the Values and Ethics Guideline for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (the Guideline). He believes the Guideline is a good way to ensure that the community is involved in the research journey. His involvement with NHMRC continued with Dan chairing the Indigenous Health Research Panel (IHRP), and now sitting on the Principal Committee Indigenous Caucus (PCIC), as well as Australian Health Ethics Committee (AHEC) and Research Committee (RC). 

‘I think it’s really important that there is a ‘go to group’ to provide advice—PCIC brings with it all of my networks and all of everyone else’s networks, our experiences and our knowledge to that table,’ he said.

In the future, Dan hopes to see more community-driven research to address issues specific to the community. He hopes to see more involvement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers working and focusing on community needs, in the hope of addressing priority health and communal needs.

‘There needs to be continued capacity building to enable the next generation of researchers to become more involved and become leaders and change agents in the health system,’ he said.

‘Eventually, I’d love to see a full implementation of evidence-based practice in health services, hospitals and care in order to achieve the most appropriate, safe and patient-centred care,’ he added.