Now she’s pivoting from treating individuals’ diet and health issues to tackling major public health challenges, such as managing chronic pain.
“As a dietitian and exercise physiologist, I was very focused on getting the individual to change their behaviour to improve their health,” she says. “The more I did that, the more I realised that there were so many inefficiencies in the health system and the broader environment.”
After four years as an allied healthcare leader with a Medicare Local in the Illawarra, where she worked with people in residential aged care, at a GP super clinic and in a youth mental health counselling service, Ms Walker wanted to shift her focus.
She enrolled in a combined Master of Public Health/Health Management, which she completed in 2018, while simultaneously working as a research officer at the University of Sydney.
At the Prevention Centre, she has worked on several projects including strategies to prevent the progression of acute pain to chronic pain.
“In Australia, we have an opioid crisis and long patient wait lists for pain management services,” she says. “So we are trying to take the burden off tertiary care and allow patients to have better access to appropriate pain management in the primary care setting.”
Ms Walker’s project is assessing what’s already been done in this space, identifying best practice models of what could be implemented at the local level in collaboration with Primary Health Networks.
“I’m at a bit of a crossroads at the moment in terms of my career,” she says. “I’m asking myself: do I embed myself in academia or do I take a policy path? What I really like about the Prevention Centre is that it has a heavy academic research focus, but its research has a direct impact, answering questions in the real world.”
In her personal life, Ms Walker says she stays motivated by setting herself physical goals. Last year, she and her husband walked the Inca Trail in Peru to see the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. She’s also just completed her second half-marathon.