Sally Hall knew she wanted to complete a PhD, but it took 10 years before she could make the commitment to start. Work opportunities and family commitments took priority and the PhD plan was pushed back numerous times. With a clinical and management background in healthcare delivery, Sally knew the time was right in 2016 when she became aware of a clinical dataset she could access. “I guess it was serendipity – and too good an opportunity to refuse. My thesis focuses on the ways in which we understand healthcare quality in primary care settings, and specifically the problem of practice variation in clinical care. I’m interested in the tension between standardisation as a means of ensuring quality and the role that variation and diversity – or tailoring of care to individuals – can play in improving quality. The dataset contains some widely accepted measures of quality across a large group of clinics that I could use to explore some of these questions.”
Fast forward to the beginning of 2020 - Sally was 3-6 months away from submitting her thesis when the bushfires and then COVID19 arrived. Sally rebalanced her study load and work as a Research Manager to deal with some added work demands associated with the impact of the bushfires. So when the lockdown arrived it meant the overarching process and timelines in the final stages of her thesis would have to change. However, even though the pandemic may have caused some unforeseen issues for Sally, it also brought with it a huge opportunity.
Thanks to her supervisor, Professor Kirsty Douglas, Sally was made aware of a research position related to COVID19 at the Department of Health. “In some ways it felt like it should have been a difficult decision – deciding to put my PhD on hold - but in the end it wasn’t really that hard. Partly because it was such a tremendous opportunity to work with impressive people. And partly because it was clear that things were changing very quickly and it would also be an opportunity to make a contribution, rather than stay focused on something that had no direct relevance to the crisis that seemed to be unfolding.”
“I’ve always tended to be someone who was intrigued by interesting possibilities – if a door appears in front of me I usually want to see what’s on the other side. So in the end, I didn’t really feel I could say no, or seriously wanted to. It was a wrench to let go of the thesis though, just as I’d started to gather momentum for the final stage.”
So what’s in store for Sally after her secondment at the Department of Health and once her PhD has been submitted? “I don’t really have a firm plan post PhD at the moment. I’d begun to think about this but was still assessing options when COVID-19 struck and everything changed! Even if I had a plan, it’s possible it might be up in the air now anyway. I’m pretty comfortable that the plan will emerge from the process, it usually has in the past. And I’m fortunate I have a research job to go back to at some point!”