Asmara Jammali-Blasi always knew she wanted a more hands-on job, she figured it would be more interesting. Now an epidemiologist in the Northern Territory, helping to remove health disadvantages of Indigenous Australians, Asmara provides an insight into the world of an active researcher.
Asmara Jammali-Blasi, Bachelor of Nursing (Honors)
It was a high school work-experience visit to Westmead Public Hospital that evoked Asmara’s commitment to public health research.
“I was fascinated by the patient care I saw and the practice of health care in action. I decided I wanted to work in a hospital as a nurse.”
After completing a Bachelor of Nursing at ACU, Asmara entered a new graduate program as a registered nurse at St Vincent’s Hospital.
“It was a fantastic experience. Some days it was so challenging, physically and emotionally. When I look back I am so grateful for the opportunity, as it really opened my eyes to greater health issues and disparities that exist.
"It also allowed me to understand the gap that exists between evidence and practice. So many practices and methods that nurses fall back on aren’t necessarily based on the best quality evidence.”
Had I not gone through the clinical component and the Bachelor of Nursing, I would probably never had thought to do research and then move in to public health.”
The experience catapulted Asmara’s desire to go into research and prompted her return to ACU to undertake Honours. As part of the Faculty of Health Sciences Honours Support Scheme, Asmara was able to conduct her honours research at St Vincent’s & Mater Health Sydney in the ACU Nursing Research Institute, and also continue to work in the hospital wards.
Under the supervision and mentorship of ACU’s Professor Sandy Middleton and Associate Professor Liz McInnes, Asmara completed a study investigating 90-day self-reported outcomes of stroke patients.
“A component of my study results provided research that can assist hospital staff with anticipating the needs of the stroke patient and the levels of disability likely to be experienced.
"This information can also assist organizing the provision of appropriate levels of support for those discharged from the hospital with stroke-related deficits.”
Asmara’s study was published in the international Journal of Vascular Nursing. She also presented her research findings at the Australian state-wide Smart Strokes conference as well as the national Stroke Society of Australasia conference in 2010.
Asmara was awarded with first class honours for her thesis study. She also received the ACU University Medal, setting a precedent as the first time a nurse had received the honour.
Having been so heavily involved in the research of stoke, Asmara discovered she had developed a high level of awareness of the burden of stroke as well as the limited awareness that exists in the wider community.
Wanting to share the knowledge she had through her studies, Asmara searched for a volunteer position within the field of health promotion. She soon found the role she was after – as an ambassador for the National Stroke Foundation – which she still continues today.
“As a Stroke Safe ambassador I go out into the community and speak to various groups about what a stroke is, how it can be prevented, and how people can access information and services related to strokes.”
Asmara went on to complete a Masters in Public Health at Sydney University in 2011. With the new skills she had learned through postgraduate study, Asmara was offered a position as State Project Coordinator of a multi-million dollar research trial project funded by the National Health and Medical Research Councils (NHMRC). As Australia’s peak funding body for medical research, the NHRMC project was led by Professor Sandy Middleton and Asmara found herself again working alongside her mentor.
“The level of expertise that Professor Middleton holds is amazing and her drive within the nursing research field is like no other.
“In that role I really enjoyed the process of writing manuscripts and synthesising the research in a way that allows you to share your findings with other people. At times it can be a bit challenging to limit two years’ worth of work into less than five pages but it’s always worth it.”
Asmara acknowledges each degree, research project and role has been a vital stepping stone to creating her dream career path.
“Each step has enriched my learning and allowed me to shape who I am and what it is I enjoy doing professionally. “To describe the role of an epidemiologist, they examine population outcomes and characteristics. An epidemiologist then translates key findings and highlights trends from data to inform public health practice.
“It was quite a daunting thought at first, as I have never moved away from Sydney or my family. But so far, it's [the Northern Territory] an amazing an amazing place, so calm and tropical. It feels like I’m on holidays every day.”
Asmara is involved in a study that is part of Closing the Gap, a commitment by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians. Her role is to look at enhancing the reporting of six targets aimed at addressing the current inequities that exist between Indigenous and non- Indigenous Australians.
“Currently, the available data and reporting methods are not at ideal levels to assist with monitoring whether we are reaching these targets.
"I work on datasets and data methods that will help government and nongovernment agencies better report and monitor how Australia’s progress in reducing the current inequalities.”
With a variety of important project stakeholders who hold the key to public health data, Asmara regularly meets with data managers from the Northern Territory Government as well as key government staff who are positioned within the state Treasury.
“As I gain a greater understanding of the current health disparities that exist between local Indigenous and non- Indigenous Australians, this drives my focus and energises my commitment each day in my role.
"As one of the most multicultural cities in Australia, I am also inspired by the community engagement and mutual respect that each of cultural groups shows one another.”
Though Asmara is content in her role at the moment, continuing her academic career in research is never too far from mind.
“A PhD is definitely on the cards as something I’d like to start in the next few years. I’ve been putting it off mainly because I want to be really sure of the topic area and methods I want to use.
"By branching out into epidemiology and doing some short courses this year I hope to really define the scope of the PhD project I hope to undertake.”