WOMAN OF THE WEEK: JULIE ANNE MITCHELL
After nursing an ovarian cancer patient back to health, Julie Anne Mitchell traded scrubs for a microphone and began her career in public health.
She now chairs the national women and heart disease program for the Heart Foundation. The Hoopla spoke to her about her smoking in public and walking in elevators.
What drew you to working in public health?
While backpacking around England I took a 2 week job to look after a 33-year-old woman called Phillipa who went into hospital for what she thought was removal of an appendix. Instead they found she had advanced ovarian cancer. She was smart, sassy and the mother of a 2 year old boy. She had everything to live for and I spent the next 6 months looking after her. It was a profound journey for her, her family and myself. Afterwards it left me with a compulsion to do more than just continue to nurse in a hospital setting and as a consequence when I returned to Australia – and paid off my travelling debts – I was successful in getting a job to talk to women about the importance of having regular Pap tests. It was the start of my career in public health.
What has been the proudest moment of your professional life?
While working for the NSW Health Department I was responsible, with a group of other people, to guide the introduction of smoking bans in NSW pubs and clubs. This took a number of years, involving consultation with the NSW pubs and clubs industry, the non-government health sector, academics, policy advisors, the minister’s office and the broader community. It was a shared achievement, but one I feel very proud to have worked on because not only did we make a significant improvement to the health of patrons and staff either visiting or working in pubs and clubs,– but equally because it final broke the nexus of considering ‘smoking and drinking’ as a normal thing to do.
Public acceptance of smoke-free environments really turned a corner at that point and since coming to the Heart Foundation I have had the opportunity to continue this work by advocating for smoke-free outdoor areas such as playgrounds, sporting fields and outdoor dining. Interestingly coming to the Heart Foundation also coincided with the Foundation deciding to invest in a women and heart disease program called Go Red for Women and it’s been my pleasure to strategically lead this national program for the past four years.
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