One student’s journey from podiatrist to policy reformer

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Jay Stiles has always had a passion for health care and been driven by a core set of principles – ‘If we’re going to believe in our community ideals of fairness we need to provide the health care to empower all people,’ he says. Jay initially embarked on a health career that enabled him to work face-to-face with the people most in need. But he was soon confronted with the bigger picture of his field – including the cost of global health – and with this observation came the drive to make an even bigger difference.

Pursuing a career on the frontline of health care

During Year 12, Jay thought strategically about his career options, comparing all the university courses that would enable him to work with those worst off in our community. Eventually deciding on podiatry, Jay completed a degree and began his career in Melbourne’s inner west. ‘I was working in the Footscray community health sector. I worked with low income housing commission residents and drug users,’ Jay explains. He soon saw the reality faced by disadvantaged families. ‘In Australia, the best indicator of your health is your postcode. I think all Australians should be worried about that,’ he says.

An eye-opening experience

While Jay’s employment offered the human connection he desired, he became increasingly frustrated. ‘There were people who were really down and out and couldn’t get access to the long term health care they needed’, says Jay. He recalls one patient he encountered who was suffering from a usually easily treatable eye condition, but was bound to go completely blind because his low socioeconomic status and income prevented him from being able to access the right treatment. ‘So much of what I was doing felt like it didn’t tackle the root of the problem,’ says Jay. ‘People need structural change to provide long term solutions.’

Changing paths

‘I started to really question the bigger picture,’ says Jay. ‘I was forced to think about how policy is framed and how spending is prioritised. I became doubtful policy was designed with the people I met in mind. So I sought about changing that’. Jay researched different career areas in which he could be most impactful, soon discovering an exciting new field – health economics. Through health economics, Jay could have a seat at the table of policy decisions and utilise his knowledge of the on-the-ground impacts and needs to help design policy that ‘contributes to a healthier and happier Australia’, he says.

'I was forced to think about how policy is framed and how spending is prioritised. I became doubtful policy was designed with the people I met in mind. So I sought about changing that.'

Jay Stiles,
Master of Health Economics student, Deakin University

A new-found community

Through Deakin University’s online Cloud Campus Jay commenced a Master of Health Economics, while maintaining his current job. ‘It was easy to get used to,’ he says. ‘It fits around my busy schedule so simply.’ As someone who strongly values connections, Jay was hesitant of the online platform but soon found the connectedness was stronger than he’d thought. ‘I could talk to my lecturers in weekly video Q and A sessions and they were always on email or the phone if I needed them,’ Jay points out. He also connected to the online network of other students. The group studying alongside Jay were all professionals in their own fields and shared his desire for systemic change. ‘There was a strong mutual respect for everyone’s career and time. That was really the highlight for me,’ he explains.

Hope for a brighter future

Jay will finish his health economics degree at the end of this year and is currently looking into advisory bodies and organisations he can join that will enable him to use his knowledge and skills to impact policy change. ‘I’ve never lost the picture in my brain of the frontline communities I worked in,’ he says. ‘The best thing for the human side of health is to increase government spend effectively.’

Learn more about studying Deakin University’s Master of Health Economics.

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