Alison Waite

Alison Waite graduated from the Bachelor of Social Work at the University of Sydney and worked as a social worker in mental health before completing a Master of Social Work (Counselling) at UNSW. Her degrees have given her the knowledge and confidence to work in the challenging area of mental health and to get the best possible outcome for her patients and their families. Alison is currently working at Royal North Shore Hospital as a Senior Social Worker in the Mental Health Inpatient Adult Unit.

1. Please may you tell us about yourself, your background, how you ultimately became a social worker?

Alison Waite: I am originally from the UK and left in the late 1970’s on a backpacking trip to New Zealand and then Australia. When I arrived in Australia I decided I wanted to stay and so I applied for residency. During this time I joined IBM Australia Limited. I worked in a variety of areas, Marketing, Finance and Administration. Through my career progression, I became a Business Manager and found that I really enjoyed working with people. Much of my role as an IBM Manager was to support my team in their goals, career objectives and at times assist them in personal issues they may be experiencing.

2. What degree/s did you complete and was there something in particular that attracted you to these courses of study?

Alison Waite: Because of my interest in people I chose to major in psychology within my Arts degree as well as History which I took as an honours course. I majored with Educational Psychology/History in 1992. In 2006 I graduated with a BSW (Hons) and started working as a real social worker in mental health. In 2009/10 I undertook a Master of Social Work (Counselling) UNSW and graduated with Hons, in 2011.

3. How has your degree supported you in your professional life?

Alison Waite: My degrees have absolutely supported my working life and provided me with the theoretical knowledge, the ability to think critically and reflectively and to have confidence to challenge the system when I encounter inequality or disadvantage.

4. What’s your current role?

Alison Waite: My current role is at Royal North Shore Hospital as Senior Social Worker in the Mental Health Inpatient Adult Unit. I have been in this position for 10 years and I love this role.

5. What are your happiest memories about your time here as a student?

Alison Waite: I loved my years at University and met some outstanding students. I work with two former social work students from my cohort, who also work in mental health within the health district I work in. My happiest memories are hanging out in the SW/Education coffee shop and sharing with other students the anxieties about assignments and whether we would ever get a job as a social worker.

6. Who was your favourite Professor while you were a student at the University of Sydney and why?

Alison Waite: Many of the Professors and senior educators at Sydney University were an inspiration to me. I consider Prof Fran Waugh, Jude Irwin, and Lesley Laing as people who gave me the drive to always strive for the best and to research, research, research.

7. What is the mantra you live by and what drives you?

Alison Waite: Since completing my degrees I have been driven to share my understanding of social work practice with students. I have had students from 3rd, 4th and MS Qualifying for the last 7 years and am so proud to see them all gain jobs, some of which are in mental health. I am also driven by the knowledge that I work in a challenging and complex area of mental health. In this regard I am passionate about supporting the individual to ensure they receive the supports they may need and to also provide support to families or carers without whom the system would collapse.

8. What are your plans for the future?

Alison Waite: I hope that I am able to continue working in mental health for a few more years and intend to continue to push and challenge within the system to get better outcomes for the patients and their families that I work with.

9. What advice would you give to students graduating from the University of Sydney?

Alison Waite: My advice to graduating students would be to be proud of all of those essays you wrote, because you will never stop writing as a social worker. Try and work in an area that you feel passionate about – and always look for ways to change the system.

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