A strategic view of better health
For Professor Suzanne Chambers AO, the new Dean of the Faculty of Health, health care is – and has always been – about people.
The main focus of her career to date, which has spanned nursing, psychology, community health and research, has been supporting people through the psychological impacts of cancer.
Combined with a desire to deliver interventions and services that make a meaningful difference to patients’ lives, this work has led to a remarkable career that recently saw Professor Chambers appointed to the role of Dean of the UTS Faculty of Health.
“I see UTS as a place of great opportunity, excellent values, oriented to community good. It’s known for its spirit of collaboration – it’s got all of the things you want to see in a university,” she says.
Professor Chambers started her career as a registered nurse before later qualifying as a psychologist and moving into a series of community services and research roles at Cancer Council Queensland. Here, she was primarily focused on the development of psychosocial support services for people with cancer and their families.
Her work at Cancer Council Queensland inspired her to complete a PhD in 2004, leading to one of the first major pieces of work on the psychological effects of receiving a prostate cancer diagnosis.
“I started doing research as a way to be a better operator in the community,” she says.
“It seemed to me we should really be understanding in an empirical way what was going on for people with cancer, and that any interventions we did should also be based on quality data and on theory.”
PhD in hand, Professor Chambers rose rapidly through the ranks of academia, moving to Griffith University and receiving an ARC Future Fellowship in 2012. In 2015, she became the Inaugural Menzies Foundation Professor of Allied Health Research at Griffith before taking over the role as the Director of the Menzies Health Institute Queensland the following year.
Professor Chambers received funding in 2016 to lead a Centre for Research Excellence in Prostate Cancer Survivorship, and in 2018, became an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AO) for distinguished service to medical research.
Her approach for all of her work is to start by listening, engaging, building a knowledge base and gathering data from a range of sources to work out a vision for the way forward – an inclusive and generous approach that considers divergent opinions is key, she says.
“if you do this in a genuine and authentic way, you can build a common mission within your team and move forward on a shared vision,” she says.
“It’s also really important to take what we do seriously. We are in a privileged position in the roles that we have and have a responsibility to deliver to our students and to the community. We all need to constantly keep this in sight.”
Today, Professor Chambers is bringing these insights, combined with her deep empathy for patients and passion for research, to UTS where she’s focused on delivering on the Faculty of Health’s contribution to the UTS 2027 Strategy.
“My role is to ensure that the right supports are in place, that the faculty itself can operate efficiently and effectively. I’m really looking at trying to enhance what’s already here and to develop that further,” she says.
“We’ve got all these disciplines in one faculty. It puts you in a unique position to be able to develop interprofessional learning and to build on those synergies.”
Projects in the pipeline include articulating the faculty’s research strategy and its flagship areas of enquiry, reviewing the faculty’s teaching and learning approach in the context of the 2027 strategy, and developing responses to emerging challenges, such as preparing the health care workforce for a disrupted future – a topic that was a key driver in her decision to come to UTS.
“In my previous role, I was research focused, and that didn’t allow me the opportunity to get involved in teaching and learning activity – but you can start affecting change right away if you’re supporting and influencing educational processes,” she says.
Beyond the confines of the faculty, Professor Chambers is also committed to working broadly across UTS, strengthening existing collaborations within other faculties and research groups, such as with the Centre for Health Economics Research and Evaluation in the UTS Business School and the Cancer Engineering and Bioinformatics group in the Faculty of Engineering and IT.
“There’s a great spirit of collaboration amongst all those faculties that’s pretty amazing, actually. It’s lovely to sit in a room with the deans and talk about ideas and what we can do together. It’s a pretty remarkable group and I feel very privileged to have joined it,” she says.