Dr Malcolm Forbes balances his time between caring for patients and undertaking research in chronic disease prevention and care. His work has taken him from Papua New Guinea to Switzerland where he has recently travelled to investigate trade and health.
GHG: Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in a big family, in Bundaberg, Queensland, with seven brothers and sisters. My parents are both teachers and were the first in their respective families to attend university, so they strongly encouraged us all to pursue tertiary studies. My parents instilling the values of hard work and perseverance were instrumental in my university studies.
I decided to study medicine and become a doctor after reading a short piece on the work of the Fred Hollows Foundation and a discussion with my brother, who is also a doctor. Learning about the root causes of disease at university – including the social determinants of health – changed my views on what is involved in effective delivery of health care.
GHG: Tell us about your current role.
I’m currently a National Health and Medical Research Council postgraduate scholar and research associate at James Cook University Centre for Research Excellence in Chronic Disease Care and Prevention (a bit of a mouthful). In my other job, I work as a medical registrar.
My usual daily responsibilities include undertaking research, treating patients, teaching medical students and an assortment of other bits and pieces. I get a lot of satisfaction in treating patients successfully and seeing their positive outcomes.
The most challenging aspect of conducting research is the large amount of paperwork that’s involved (grant applications, ethics applications). These are necessary evils but they make the process arduous and turn people off doing research.
GHG: How do you keep motivated to work in the field of global health?
Focus on tangible, achievable outcomes. Work in a team. Collaborate with others in the field and learn that sometimes following others is as important as being a leader. Congratulate yourself and your team on your successes.
GHG: Give us a moment you’ve had working in global health that will make those of us still stuck at home envious of your lifestyle during this job.
Right now I’m on a train from Zurich to Geneva. I’m on a funded research fellowship studying the links between trade and health over in Switzerland. I’ve had opportunities to meet high level bureaucrats in the World Trade Organisation, International Trade Centre, International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development and the United Nations. In the lead up to this trip, I had the opportunity to meet with a number of politicians including the Prime Minster, Treasury officials and DFAT officials.
GHG: What are your tips for people interested in working in global health?
Chat with others working in the field. Appreciate that a lot of important work that matters is done behind the scenes and is not necessarily the illustrious, hands-on, “sexy” work. Read a bunch of books on the topics you’re interested in to get up to speed.
I spent some time working in Papua New Guinea after I graduated. What really helped me was talking to a few people who had been there before and doing a fair bit of research about the hospital I’d be working at. Speaking the local language is advantageous if possible and do the necessary background reading!
GHG: Please recommend any interesting global health related websites that you particularly enjoy or would like to share.
Personally, I think global health involves looking out for all disadvantaged populations across the world, including those in our own backyard. The JCU Centre for Research Excellence in Chronic Disease Care and Prevention (http://www.ccdp.jcu.edu.au/) are doing some exciting work in improving the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia.