Research Associate and PhD Student
Breathe Easy, Walk Easy, Lungs for Life (BE WELL) Trial
Faculty of Health Sciences and Poche Centre for Indigenous Health - University of Sydney
David Meharg grew up in an environment where attending university seemed like a distant dream. Driven to study a Bachelor of Health Science at Charles Sturt University (CSU) as a mature age student, David says attending university enabled him to discover a passion for learning and health care.
Now with two Master degrees to his name and a wealth of health care leadership experience, David is currently a Research Associate with the University of Sydney managing a National Health and Medical Research Council funded trial about Aboriginal pulmonary rehabilitation services and completing a PhD.
Here David explains why he is passionate about changing the way health services are delivered in collaboration with Aboriginal people and why the road less taken, has made all the difference.
I attended university as a mature age student… at 23. I always wanted to attend university, though having a child 17 while attending High School, then another at 19 understandably changed my focus. To support my young family, I left school and started an Aboriginal administrative traineeship with the Local Health District. At interview I was told if I stayed focus a traineeship would be a stepping stone to university. So that is what I did. Each year I stepped from a certificate II, III, IV, then a Diploma and finally after five years a Bachelor of Health Science at CSU. When I received my letter of offer I felt like I had won the golden ticket!
I’m currently… working at the Faculty of Health Science and Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, University of Sydney managing a complex research project with an experienced and committed team on Aboriginal pulmonary rehabilitation in the Aboriginal Community Controlled Sector and completing a PhD. Academia is such a different environment than I am used to, which is health care leadership and public health policy. Health care is an intense and fast paced political environment with complex competing demands. In academia, the demands are less intense and longer timelines to implement a solution, allowing adequate time to think through the best course of action.
My childhood was… shaped heavily by strong women who possessed a common sensed approach to problems, street smarts and unwavering inner strength.
I chose CSU because… it felt safe. I was able to live and work in my community of Orange and study via block release at the Dubbo CSU campus with other Aboriginal students.
My best experience at CSU was… developing my voice and articulating thoughts into a convincing and influential argument. Knowledge is power!
My worst experience at CSU was… initially feeling I did not belong. Attending CSU was as much about learning self-belief and finding my place in the world, as well as the health care system, funding streams and policy.
At university I was inspired… by the language used and concepts and theories being explored.
Today I’m motivated to… influence how health care is delivered in collaboration with Aboriginal people. There is significant opportunity to better partner with the community to design and implement holistic preventative health care.
In my profession it is important to… have the facts at hand to support a decision.
I never dreamed I… would be given so many opportunities to learn. This means I have a responsibility to give back. This came to realisation after attending the Aurora Indigenous Scholars International Study Tour. The purpose of this tour was to visit Ivy League universities in the US and UK for five weeks to apply for full-time post-graduate study. During the tour I realised studying at Oxford, Cambridge or Harvard would be personally and professionally rewarding; but I needed to give back and identify solutions for the Australian Aboriginal context, hence why I am in my current role, completing a PhD in Aboriginal pulmonary rehabilitation with the University of Sydney.
The biggest influence in my life… has been a previous manager, Catherine Nowlan, General Manager, Orange Health Service. I worked with Catherine for several years and am utterly impressed by her character and ability to achieve health care results. Catherine is an exceptional leader, who possess integrity, intelligence and strength. Catherine taught me about ‘connecting to my why’, ‘the power of the question to find the truth’ and that ‘having good intentions is fine, but means absolutely nothing if results are not achieved!’
I’m most proud of… My eldest sister Sharon - what another great role model! She fought against family resistance to finish high school and apply to and graduate from university. With her strength and commitment in mind, I took that daunting first step and applied to university and never looked back!
My greatest achievement… is yet to come. I have received Dean’s awards, accepted into the Golden Key International Honour Society, graduated with a Masters degree with distinction, inducted into the WACE Co-op Hall of Fame and now completing a PhD, but there is something bigger still to come.
I am passionate about what I do… because there is great value in a healthy and responsive public health care system.
In the future… I’d like to support setting the strategic agenda for Aboriginal health by conducting research and providing advice that shapes the minds of leaders.
The best piece of advice I ever received was… “Why not? Anything is possible. Go on, get it done - Giddy up!”
The single-most important issue in the world is… preventative health care. If we want to have a healthy population that is productive, we need to invest in a public health approach to care. After all, health is wealth.
The thing I wish I had done but never got around to… study a nursing degree.
If I could do it all again… I probably would not change a thing. Having children young was significantly challenging, but my children gave me purpose, kept me honest and focussed on achieving, not so much for me, but for them and their future.
One last thing... We all need encouragement. Instead of listening to those internal thoughts of self-doubt; instead talk to and encourage yourself like you would your best friend.