Posted on August 14, 2020
Dr Turner, a senior lecturer at the School of Health Systems and Public Health, chats about her past career highlights, present responsibilities and future plans.
Having a supportive spouse and family as well as a good working environment makes a big difference, says Dr Astrid Turner, a senior lecturer at the School of Health Systems and Public Health (SHSPH) at UP. However, managing a career in academia in addition to her duties to her young family does involve sacrifice, she adds.
Her service in public health coupled with her responsibilities as a lecturer, her involvement in the medical curriculum for undergraduates, coordinating postgraduate modules, supervising students and pursuing a PhD means Dr Turner has to be deliberate about her work-life balance. “You develop a new perspective of what really matters, a wry sense of humour and skill set that seems to work in your favour somehow and on most days,” she says.
Dr Turner graduated with an MBChB from the University of Cape Town and specialised in Public Health Medicine. She also holds two postgraduate diploma qualifications, in HIV Management and Health Economics, and is pursuing her PhD in Public Health, focusing on the application of a health economics technique known as discrete choice experiment (DCE) in medical education “I would also like to be part of creating a unit at the SHSPH that teaches and further refines the application of DCE to medical education and possibility other fields.”
She is part of the SHSPH and faculty committees related to teaching and learning, ethics and transformation. With the support of the Research Office and Dean of the faculty, Dr Turner also initiated a research group known as Tuks Undergraduate Research Forum (TURF) that supports undergraduate Health Sciences students who are interested in further exposure to research. Through TURF, more undergrads are starting to do research, present their findings on national and international platforms, and have opportunities to publish.
In terms of public health, she points out that it is challenging to stay updated on new developments – this is especially difficult amid the pandemic. She is also passionate about curriculum transformation and tries to address or strengthen aspects related to it in any academic work that she does.
Dr Turner says she is fortunate to have travelled extensively during her career. “After my community service, I worked in the UK. Then from 2015 onwards, my interest in health economics culminated in further studies at the University of York in the UK and a short DCE course hosted by the University of Aberdeen’s Health Economics Research Unit in Scotland. I have also worked with different districts and provinces within South Africa in a health systems strengthening role, as well as in several African countries when I was involved with health impact assessments in the extractive industry for a brief period.”
The highlight of her career was being part of the HIV treatment programme for the Western Cape Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS directorate. “I worked with multiple stakeholders that enabled the accreditation of 12 facilities to roll out ARVs; this included the local health authority and provincial health facilities, TB hospitals and correctional centres.”
So what keeps her motivated? “My two daughters,” she says. “I want to be part of creating a better health system and educational opportunities for people to access, regardless of who they are and what they can afford.”
As for the issue of gender-based violence in South Africa, Dr Turner has much insight to offer. “This epidemic of gender-based violence requires multisectoral efforts with the appropriate political and funding commitments to not only prevent new cases from happening but also so that there are resources to support survivors and prosecute perpetrators. There must also be a focus on role-modelling during early childhood development. If that is not the case, we will keep on returning to the crisis of gender-based violence if boys are exposed to negative examples of different power struggles around them – whether violent or not – as they weave their own story about the role and treatment of women in their lives.”
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