Breaking down barriers

Centre for Online Health Project Manager Christine Howard loves her work, but it’s the bigger picture that keeps her truly motivated. On International Women’s Day, Christine reflects on the conversations she’s had with her nana and how they led her to consider what drives her. The answer – making a difference.

Recently I asked my 99-year-old nana what’s the biggest change she has seen in her life time. I expected her to say technology, skyscrapers or maybe even cultural shifts, but she didn’t say any of these things.

Nana simply replied ‘health’.

As a nurse myself, I would have thought that would be first on my mind, but it wasn’t, and it took me by surprise. ‘Health?’ I replied. My nana went on to tell me how when she was young, a friend died from a simple infection and how her own father died from a bleeding stomach ulcer when he was in his early thirties. Two lives lost which in this day and age would have been largely prevented with medications and procedures.  

This was only one conversation of many which nana and I have had over the years. Another significant change we have talked about is what women can now do with their lives. Not what they are capable of, but rather what is now accepted in society. She told me how she was a seamstress but needed to give that up when she married and started a family. As her children got older, she did sew for others, however any money earned was not to go in to the household budget.

That was the man’s position. Instead, money from sewing was saved or spent on a new hat for a special occasion.

These conversations have led me to think about the changes I have seen in my own lifetime and to consider what drives me personally. Family and friends give me the support and encouragement which I need at times, though the drive comes from making a difference.

I enjoy breaking down barriers, helping people to see the big picture and empowering them to make their own difference, either to themselves or those around them.

My nana and I taking a 'facey', as she calls them.

DREAMT team at the end of a cultural training day with Mundanara and Yarraka Bayles, Dr (Aunty) Lilla Watson and Dr (Aunty) Mary Graham from BlackCard.

DREAMT team at the end of a cultural training day with Mundanara and Yarraka Bayles, Dr (Aunty) Lilla Watson and Dr (Aunty) Mary Graham from BlackCard.

DREAMT team at the end of a cultural training day with Mundanara and Yarraka Bayles, Dr (Aunty) Lilla Watson and Dr (Aunty) Mary Graham from BlackCard.

After working in health and education for over 30 years, I am now a Project Manager at the  Centre for Online Health in the Faculty of Medicine at UQ. I am part of the dementia telehealth  DREAMT project team who work with Aboriginal Medical Services and communities in South West Queensland and the Torres Strait.

I work with Indigenous Health Workers to educate, screen and support people with dementia and their carers and community. Telehealth (video consultations) is used to connect people in these rural and remote locations with specialist clinical staff at major hospitals.

Through DREAMT, I have had the opportunity to travel to the Torres Strait and communities in South West Qld. I have met with CEOs, Managers and Indigenous Health Workers, as well as the Mayors for Torres Strait and Charleville. So far, these have all been women. Strong, intelligent, incredible women. Women who want the best for the people who live within their communities.

Mischa Fisher, Aboriginal Health Worker from Cherbourg and myself at the Ration Shed Museum.

The bank of the Warrego River in Charleville after rain.

Aqua waters of the Torres Strait, I have never seen anything like them.

Aqua waters of the Torres Strait, I have never seen anything like them.

Aqua waters of the Torres Strait, I have never seen anything like them.

The centralisation of specialist health services in city locations makes it more challenging for people living in country areas to access. During my lifetime, not only has the treatment and management of diseases and illnesses progressed, but also innovative strategies to improve access to these specialist health services and healthcare.

The challenges lie in investing the time and money to meet with the women (and men) from the services to understand what is needed in their communities. Each community is different, just as their needs are different and it is the people within these communities who understand that best and what is needed to make a change. However, by listening and working in partnership with them, real clinical problems are addressed and what we do together is making a difference to the lives of people. 

This is largely made possible due to societal changes where women are not only free to work in their chosen field but are largely supported and enabled to do so. I would like to think that the next generation of women are not only supported to do the same but are mentored by the women who have been before them regardless of where they live and work.

Nothing like returning home to emus at the front door, after a day at work at Cunnamulla.

Memorial at the Ration Shed Museum.

While technology and cultural shifts weren’t the first things to come to mind for nana, they are changing the face of health and empowering women to make a difference.

I have been influenced by many amazing women in my life and career, though I like to think that my nana has been my greatest mentor. She has certainly been one of my biggest fans and I, hers.

Early morning on Thursday Island. The last time I was there, Crocodiles were active and abundant, and a local islander advised me not to walk within three meters of the water's edge in some places. Yikes. Early morning on Thursday Island. The last time I was there, Crocodiles were active and abundant, and a local islander advised me not to walk within three meters of the water's edge in some places. Yikes.

Early morning on Thursday Island. The last time I was there, Crocodiles were active and abundant, and a local islander advised me not to walk within three meters of the water's edge in some places. Yikes.

Early morning on Thursday Island. The last time I was there, Crocodiles were active and abundant, and a local islander advised me not to walk within three meters of the water's edge in some places. Yikes.