International public health expert joins Sax team
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Professor Don Nutbeam: working in ways to solve challenges

Professor Don Nutbeam

After a career spanning senior academic and government positions in the UK and Australia, internationally recognised public health expert Professor Don Nutbeam says he was attracted to his new position as a senior adviser at the Sax Institute by the opportunity to work more closely with researchers and policy-makers to support evidence-informed policy-making.

Professor Nutbeam has just returned to Australia after five years as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Southampton, and his career has involved several moves back and forth between Australia and the UK.

He first moved to Sydney in 1990 to work in the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health and then returned to the UK to become Head of Public Health under the Blair Government in 2000. He returned to the University of Sydney in 2003 as Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the College of Health Sciences, followed by an appointment as Provost of the University in 2006.

Tackling public health challenges

Professor Nutbeam says he now regards Australia as home, but couldn’t turn down the opportunity to become Vice Chancellor of the University of Southampton – his alma mater – when he was offered the role in 2009.

“It is where I completed my postgraduate study, and it was a career offer I couldn’t really refuse. It was genuinely a privilege,” he says.

He admits the role overseeing the day-to-day life of the university with more than 30,000 staff and students was hugely demanding.

“I loved every minute of it, but I was also glad to stop doing it,” he says. “There is a point when you want to get off the merry-go-round. I had reached the point in my career where I wanted to return to work on a range of public health challenges that are closer to my heart.“

Research focus

Professor Nutbeam’s research career, which includes more than 150 publications in peer-reviewed journals, has focused on public health intervention research in schools and communities as well as studies of health literacy and adolescent health behaviour. He has worked as an adviser and consultant for the World Health Organisation over a 20-year period and as consultant and team leader in projects for the World Bank.

He will now divide his time between his role as Senior Adviser, Analysis and Innovation here at the Sax Institute, and two positions with the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health. He is “picking up where he left off”, by continuing collaborative research work with a focus on health literacy and has been appointed “Thinker in residence 2016” with the School’s  Prevention Research Collaboration, headed by Professor Adrian Bauman, which will involve mentoring and supporting staff.

Bringing insights to the Institute

At the Sax Institute, Professor Nutbeam will focus on several areas, including acting as an adviser to senior staff across the organisation and taking on the role of Editor-in-Chief of our Public Health Research & Practice journal.

He will also be focusing on the Institute’s work in evaluation.

Professor Nutbeam says his experience working in senior policy roles in government and his understanding of the research community has given him insight into the different challenges facing policy makers and researchers in commissioning and conducting robust evaluations of health programs.

“Policy evaluations are rarely done, and are rarely done well,” he says. “But I feel we can have an earnest and credible conversation with both sides. With a pragmatic approach to evaluation, and a bit of give and take, brokering that gap is entirely possible.”

The Sax Institute’s role in building bridges between researchers and health decision makers was the factor that drew him to the position, Professor Nutbeam says.

“From the CEO downwards, there is an understanding and willingness to try to work in ways that solve those challenges rather than exacerbating them. I’m looking forward to being a part of that work.”

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