A holistic approach to public health research

This year the Maurice de Rohan International Scholarship was awarded to School of Health Sciences PhD student Ivana Stankov.

The $17,500 scholarship has enabled Ivana to travel to the United States to work with Dr Ross Hammond at The Brookings Institution, Washington, DC and Assistant Professor Pamela Matson at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Ivana is researching the complex relationship between the built environment, people and their health, and in another research project, peer influence on marijuana use.

“The research I am working on during this visit is focused on the public transportation environment,” Ivana says.

“The aim is to build a model that represents the daily journey to work behaviour of people residing in the Northwest region of Adelaide.

“To make this model work I will be considering characteristics of the neighbourhoods in which people live and try to explore the relationship between things like bus service availability and distance to the nearest transit stop and how these factors impact on people’s decisions to either use or not use public transportation.

“I will then study how these choices influence residents’ physical activity patterns and ultimately their health.”

Complex systems science allows for a more holistic exploration of health and disease, which ultimately fuelled Ivana’s interest in the field.

“I got a taste for this research through my honours project while I was enrolled in a Bachelor of Physiotherapy,” Ivana says.

“I began to appreciate the importance of understanding the contexts in which people’s lives are embedded.

“This realisation drove me to enrol in a PhD which enabled me to explore just that; the complex ways in which environments get ‘under the skin’ and shape our health and wellbeing over time.”

Her interest in complex science systems has led Ivana to a number of US-based courses.

She first attended The Santa Fe Institute Complex Systems Summer School and later on the same trip a summer session at the University of Michigan where she met her now supervisor, Dr Ross Hammond.

“I was also introduced to Assistant Professor Pamela Matson through a group project we were involved with at a course in Boston in January this year,” Ivana says.

“I am collaborating with her on a project based out of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

“This research seeks to explore the influence of peers in adolescent
marijuana use patterns.”

Pursuing opportunities and meeting people along the way has landed Ivana in good stead.

She feels the Maurice de Rohan International Scholarship has given her one of the best opportunities to work with well-respected experts in the public health and policy domain.

“Spending time at the Brookings Institution with Dr Hammond and his research team has been immensely helpful in finalising my model plan and thinking through its implementation.

“Being immersed within this international environment will help me refine and apply my skills and seek expert guidance along the way.

“Ultimately this experience ensures that the questions answered by my research are of a high caliber and at the forefront of policy utility within the South Australian context.”

Read more at Research Edge

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