Investment in doctors is a lifetime gift

04 Nov 2021

Learning the specialised skills to help high risk children from priority populations was made possible for leading community paediatrician, Professor Karen Zwi, thanks to a Foundation-funded Fellowship.

“The Fellowship has set me up for a successful career in community child health to help high risk children from priority populations,” says Professor Karen Zwi, Head of Community Child Health at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, and Clinical Program Director of Priority Populations across the Network.

The motivating force behind Prof. Karen Zwi’s career in paediatrics has been to assist every single child to reach their full potential. Children who face extreme adversity, such as those fleeing their countries of origin (refugee children) or having the connections to their lands and cultures destroyed (Aboriginal children) may need special care and services that consider their experiences. Taking those extra steps to engage them and their families and helping to build trust in health professionals makes a world of difference to their entire life trajectory.

This year Karen was awarded the Queen’s Birthday Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to paediatric medicine, which acknowledges her lifetime of dedication to the health and wellbeing of children, especially the most vulnerable in our communities.

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Foundation Fellowship Program allows qualified paediatricians to undertake the essential training to become a specialist paediatrician in a selected field, such as neurology or oncology or, in Professor Zwi’s case, Community Paediatrics. Fellows provide patient care, train junior doctors and nurses, and conduct at least one innovative research project.

“A Fellowship builds your confidence and allows you to develop networks in paediatrics throughout the country. These young doctors are the clinical leaders of the future. When you invest in a young doctor, you’re investing in 40-50 years of a leading clinician,” says Prof. Zwi.

After completing her Fellowship in 2002, Prof. Zwi has achieved significant health and wellbeing improvements for priority populations in our community by setting up a dedicated outreach service for Aboriginal and refugee children, who may find it difficult to access mainstream services. She has built the Community Child Health Department up to a team of committed practitioners, researchers, and training positions. This team provides accessible and culturally appropriate care for priority populations children at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick, often creating new and innovative approaches to meet the health needs of the young people they look after.

“All our work, from the planning of services and the delivery of care to the design of research and evaluation has involved community consultation and participation at every stage. Most of the service development was informed by community surveys conducted before we started service development to ensure we were meeting community needs,” says Prof. Zwi.

As Clinical Program Director of Priority Populations across the Network, Prof. Zwi leads dedicated teams at both Randwick and Westmead to provide vital care and support for thousands of children and young people across Aboriginal health, mental health, adolescent medicine, child protection, refugee health, eating disorders and transition services from the children’s health system to the adult system.

Professor Zwi holds an academic position as Conjoint Professor at the University of NSW where she received her PhD for research into the health of refugee children settling in Australia. Continuing her passion for improving the health of refugee children, she has made a substantial contribution to the national and international agenda on refugee and asylum seeker health and wellbeing. She has a strong research and advocacy track record and leads the Priority Populations Research Stream within the UNSW Population Child Health Research Group, which address the challenges of our time, including promoting equity and resilience, and scaling up innovative and effective child health programs.

“It is incredibly rewarding to witness how a child can flourish when given the support they need. I have loved seeing children coming top of the class after years of disrupted schooling, regularly attending our outreach health Aboriginal clinics after many ‘no-shows’ at the hospital or thriving after being freed from immigration detention.
The best feeling in my career has been when others advocate and become champions in their own right for our vulnerable communities. That’s when I feel satisfied that this work will continue beyond me and my teams at Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network.” - Prof. Zwi.

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