Meet Change Leader, Ms Alisha Chand

Current role: Change Leader, Office for Mental Health and Wellbeing, ACT Health (Since July 2021 in role, with ACT Health since July 2018)

Undergraduate degree: Bachelor of Science, Biochemistry and Pharmacology, 2011

Graduated from Master of Culture Health and Medicine (MCHAM): 2016

Why MCHAM: My first role was at an NGO that work with people with Parkinson’s Disease. I could see that we were limited in what we could accomplish for the community without better policies and investments from the government. I was also interested in better understanding the intersections of culture and health. MCHAM looked a bit hipster and it looked like it would give me the opportunity to explore these diverse interests without being limited to the paradigms of public health.

Biggest surprise: The very first class I attended was a medical anthropology class where the lecturer put a chair in front of the room and started asking if the chair was really a chair or whether this was just the social meaning we had given it. I remember sitting there and thinking “What have I gotten myself into.”

Best memory: I spent a month undertaking an ethnographic research project in Indonesia.  I assessed the development needs of a rural village community and presented the findings to local government officials. There was a lot of personal, professional and academic growth for me during this time, including having to bath in a river for the month! This experience taught me that I really enjoy and have strengths in qualitative research, which was something I was not familiar with prior to this experience. It also provided me with some clues as to how I might direct my career post-MCHAM.

Interdisciplinary concepts learnt that are applicable to my workplace: Working in a health environment, most of the people around me have a background in the health sciences or come from clinical backgrounds. My training is different to theirs in that I approach policy and program development considering methodologies that encompass social, political and economic determinants of health and wellbeing. On a more practical level, all the hours I spent reading dense social theory articles during my studies have paid off. I am confident in working with a diverse evidence-base and am able to critically review and draw together a variety of complex information. Practically, I learnt how to approach community development projects and design and conduct a research project.

A real-world problem where I’ve utilised my unique skill set: While still a student in MCHAM, someone close to me attempted suicide. I was closely involved in their mental health system experience, which was less than positive. I was quite overwhelmed by what I had witnessed.  It motivated me to  use this experience as a vignette to frame my research thesis which explored the social, political and economic factors that shape the public health response to suicide. On this journey I gained a deep knowledge about neoliberalism and how it shapes public health and was able to apply it to the issue of responses after suicide attempts to unpack why public health responses are shaped in a particular way.

The knowledge I gained in MCHAM helps me understand the context and paradigms within my own workplace - the mental health policy arena.  It has provided me with the skills and confidence to ask questions, challenge the status quo, think critically and differently, and conduct research to find unique approaches to complex issues.

Valuable take-away: A key skill I have developed from this degree is not being afraid of complexity. It took time to make sense of social theory but one day a switch flipped and it all began to make sense - it was a great feeling. The ability to make sense of complex information has been an asset to me over my career, post MCHAM.