Guest Blog – Penelope Smith, Victoria University (VU)
Victoria University (VU) prides itself as one of the most culturally diverse universities in Australia. Our Masters of Global Public Health attracts a diverse cohort, with a high number of students from migrant, and refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds.
Within our degree we have capstone units. Some of you may know it as placement or practicum. A capstone unit is one where the knowledge gained through the academic studies is put into practice in the real-world environment. For us this is a Professional Project: a discrete piece of work to be undertaken in 150 hours at one of our Industry Partners.
Tony Milne, Executive Officer of CNLC, and I have a long working relationship. As a public health professional with a long history of work in advocacy and activism, Tony was often my ‘go to’, to enrich the learnings of my Public Health higher education students (both undergraduate and postgraduate). He has provided graduate addresses, guest lectures, curriculum content (detailed here) and now, while at CNLC, an opportunity for one of our students to complete their Professional Project.
I have been involved in Public Health education and capstone units for over 15 years. In the last year while starting my PhD at University of Tasmania, examining the lived experience of overseas trained health practitioners of colour working in the Australian health system, I have felt challenged on how we authentically design and ethically support all our students undertaking their capstone unit.
Due to a strong long-term working relationship with Tony built on trust and mutual values, we saw an opportunity for an exciting and innovative Professional Project for one of our students, Jebbeh Manubah, at CNLC. This opportunity enabled Jebbeh to use her lived experience, as a refugee who travelled to Australia, in a powerful way.
Our central goal was for Jebbeh to provide insights and advice on how CNCL could incorporate lived experience as a strength within the CNCL workplace policy. Using Public Health Knowledge, the support from an innovative Learning Designer Nick Lekakis, and critical reflection on our ways of working, we supported Jebbeh to do just that – with incredible outcomes for all.
Recently, I was able to present on this piece of work at the CAPHIA Teaching and Learning forum on Kaurna Country (Adelaide) and the VU Teaching and Learning forum on Naarm (Melbourne). The response to the work has been positive, with excellent discussions particularly at CAPHIA about how we can begin scaffolding early in our public health degrees to support students to use their lived experience in a powerful way in their capstone unit and following that in their professional work.
We have seen from other professions, such as drug and alcohol services, the rise in recognition of lived experience in the workplace. This has resulted in a significant increase of people who can join the workforce. While this work is contested and unfinished, it does challenge us more broadly in Public Health to how we consider lived experience as powerful in the workplace.