Graduate Profile: Michael Wong

Michael Wong

Name: Michael Wong

What degree/s did you study (and year of completion)?
Master of International Public Health Program at Sydney Medical School, graduated in 2012.

Where do you currently work (sector/organisation) and what is your position title?
I am the Research & Communications Officer for the Pacific Friends of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a high-level advocacy organisation focused on raising political and financial support for public health issues within the Asia Pacific region. Pacific Friends is funded by the United Nations Foundation, the Global Alliance for Vaccine Initiatives (GAVI) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Describe a typical day/week in your role.
A typical day in the office involves relevant research tasks and external relations with a wide range of actors engaged in global public health including various civil society organisations, AusAID, the World Health Organization, UN Women and UNAIDS. I recently worked as a liaison between various international civil society organisations and AusAID in the preparation of the ‘Sydney Consensus’ document 2012 Malaria Summit in Sydney, which set bold new targets to reduce malaria cases and deaths by 75% in the Asia Pacific region. Regular travel is involved, both interstate and overseas in the Pacific region. I am also responsible for writing articles and editorial pieces and our online blog, preparing statements and briefs on behalf of Pacific Friends.

What do you enjoy most about your work?
It is a great source of inspiration for me to be able work with some individuals who are incredibly passionate and driven in addressing global issues, many who have been doing so for several decades. To see these people in their pursuits of a better world, and to work along side them, I count a tremendous honor and privilege.

What are some of the biggest challenges in your current role?
The health burden of the world’s people, particularly in low-and-middle-income countries is tangibly concerning. There are children a few hours flight from Sydney that are dying from infectious diseases that are quite easily treated (or prevented) in many developed countries such as Australia. The challenge is learning how to negotiate a way to engage with a wide variety of 'actors' in order to gain political, scientific and financial support to address health issues for which there are very viable solutions. Certainly, there are simple solutions for many health issues but implementation of these solutions can often be complex. That and the regular midnight conference calls to Geneva can be a challenge too.

Can you give a summary of your career journey so far? How did you get started in your career? What recruitment processes did you go through?
I served as a public health intern with a UNICEF- funded maternal & child program based at Maprik Rural Hospital in Papua New Guinea. It was during this time that I saw the realities of communicable diseases within a developing setting with my own eyes.
Later in 2011, I worked as executive assistant to the UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador to China in the preparation for World AIDS Day, which was hosted by the Pacific Friends of The Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. I had the good fortune of being exposed to high-level efforts to address the very issues that I had found so confronting during my time in PNG. Consequently, I was fortunate enough to have been offered to join the team at Pacific Friends.

What has been the highlight of your career to date?
Whilst there have been many highlights in my career so far, one of the most memorable moments has been amongst our work in advocating for the rights of children and women. In March 2012, my colleagues and I visited a series of sexual health clinics in rural Papua New Guinea, where we met children who were HIV negative as a result of our efforts to support AusAID’s programs on mother-child transmission of HIV. We saw with our own eyes a young boy who had been born free from HIV (HIV negative) from a positive mother. It was a most enlightening and emotional moment, where we saw the direct results of all the work we envision and strive to carry out in our efforts to prevent mother-child-transmission of HIV.

Which skills are highly valued by employers in your field? In your experience, what are the qualities of successful candidates e.g. relevant work experience, specific degree or industry qualification, specific skills, networks, extracurricular involvement?
Highly- driven, passionate individuals who are interested in collaborating with like-minded others. Skills and higher-level education in public health are helpful but not essential. There are significant advantages in having some sort of university background in communications, political studies, media and journalism. The ability to think critically, cohesively and diplomatically with a range of other colleagues is vital. Health is no longer simply about addressing the science of health. For those with clinical backgrounds, experience in public health programs at a community level are certainly helpful in being able to translate gaps between knowledge and policy.

What are your top three tips for university students wishing to enter your field of work? E.g. networking, postgraduate study.
1. Read widely. Opportunities for work within the field are sometimes based both on how aware one is of the current affairs that frame much of the work we do. Everything from local Australian politics, to shifts in foreign power and the rise of China as an economic influence.
2. Explore avenues where your skills and knowledge gained at university can be translated into something practical. Pursue internships, fieldwork, and do not refuse any opportunities. For those geared to do so, pursue publications, academic presentations and the opportunity to contribute your voice to the wider discussion of global health issues.
3. As the adage goes, birds of a feather stick together. It is a wonderful thing to meet with like- minded people who are actively discussing the same issues you one day may wish to address yourself. Take advantage of the social media platforms that our generation has been provided with. Bounce ideas, ‘vent’ and savor those passionate discussions that can be had with colleagues and friends who share a similar interest in global issues.

Are there any myths associated with your industry that you would like to debunk?
I’m not sure that social justice is about ‘saving the world’ per se, but rather being engaged with its workings in a way that one can best marry interests, passions, skills and the endeavors of others in making the world an equitable and sustainable place. While global health is in crisis, global health is no longer just about health specifically. It involves engaging with the priorities of states, the availability of finance and the visibility of stories, even when medical evidence is both clear and available. Perhaps to make a significant contribution, one does not have to pursue traditional development pathways (though these are vital). The pursuit of social justice can be meaningfully carried out through a broad spectrum of arenas: through medicine or through the media. Through the private sector but also the public sector. As an academic or as a practitioner.

How do you manage the balance in your life?
At the moment, I am very fortunate that there is not much difference between my working life and the pursuit of something that brings me the most happiness, satisfaction and personal inspiration.
I enjoy being able to work with people in a way that I feel is meaningful to others, and challenging both personally and intellectually. I guess you could say that my job doesn’t quite create imbalance in my life, but rather, it represents what I want my life to be about.

How do you keep current in your field? (e.g. professional development, membership of professional associations, conferences, networks)
The collaborative nature of our work means that I am constantly working with a wide range of organisations and individuals; so our dialogue is one of my contestant lines of contemporaneous information.