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Young researcher pushes to improve health inequality through education

A strong belief in the power of education and the importance of good health led University of Tasmania honours student Claire Otten to an interesting serendipity in her young career.

The 2020 recipient of the University’s prestigious Sandy Duncanson Social Justice Bursary, the 23 year old has already completed a nursing and teaching degree and is now using her skills to improve the health literacy of the community.

Claire has been recognised for her the work with researchers from the College of Health and Medicine and College of Arts, Law, and Education, examining the impact of health literacy professional development on primary school teachers as part of the HealthLit4Kids program.

HealthLit4Kids aims to bring members of the education and health sectors together with families and communities to improve health literacy, support positive health and educational outcomes for children and to reduce health inequities for families.

“I have always been super passionate about health and education so HealthLit4Kids is really the tie between nursing and teaching for me,” Claire said.

“All children have a right to health and education, so improving health literacy is a critical, social justice priority.”

After finishing school in 2014, Claire completed a two-year nursing degree at UTAS before spending a year in emergency nursing where the seeds around the importance of health literacy were sown.

“Emergency nursing gave me a lot of life experience but also really pointed out the social determinants of health and how a lack of health literacy and knowledge, was at the core of many emergency department presentations,” she said.

“With my parents being teachers, I was always taught that education changes outcomes and I thought school would be the perfect place to impact the health literacy of communities.”

After going on to complete her Master of Teaching, Claire found out about Health Lit4Kids, established by UTAS researchers Drs Rosie Nash and Shandell Elmer.

“It was exactly what I felt passionate about,” she said.

With HealthLit4Kids already operating in schools around Tasmania and recognised by the World Health Organisation, Claire’s current research on the team, focussing on health literacy development for primary school teachers, will be used to increase the reach of the program locally, nationally, and globally.

She hopes to continue this research with a PhD next year, with the University’s Tasmanian School of Medicine.

​​​​​​​Claire now divides her time between nursing, teaching and research with HealthLIt4Kids, but hopes the balance will shift now thanks to the Sandy Duncanson Social Justice Bursary.

“The bursary means I can spend less time working and more time on my research, which creates the opportunity to increase the impact of what we are doing with health literacy,” Claire said.

Sandy Duncanson, a University of Tasmania law graduate, was widely respected for his work in the community legal and housing sectors. After his death at the age of 37, his family and friends established the bursary fund to provide support to students passionate about social justice.

Published on: 26 Jun 2020 9:10am