Western epidemiologist moves to the frontline

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, epidemiologist Dr Kate McBride from the School of Medicine and Translational Health Research Institute found a vital need for her investigative skills on the frontline.

Pausing her diabetes research to fight the virus, Dr McBride joined the Western Sydney Local Health District Public Health Unit on secondment. So far in the role she has trained 54 COVID-19 investigators, managed contact tracing teams and worked with Western Sydney University’s Samoan and Tongan Community Coaches to broadcast vaccination opportunities and implement vaccination hubs across South Western Sydney.

Dr McBride said her skills as an epidemiologist prepared her for undertaking effective contact tracing work.

“Having an open mind and being very aware of the context of people's circumstances was vital to my pre-COVID work and is a skill and value that has served me well in this role. We are engaged with amazing and unique families from Western Sydney and many are often subject to factors which pre-dispose them to being at higher risk of COVID transmission (e.g., socioeconomic status, cultural background, where they live) as well as factors that put them at higher risk of severe COVID disease (e.g. chronic disease like diabetes and heart disease).

“My population health research into chronic disease has helped hugely in understanding these contextual factors and reiterated that we need to be kind and helpful, not judgemental. Also, being an epidemiologist helps understanding why we are doing what we are doing in terms of both process and management of the pandemic overall. Having an epidemiological background has given me the skills to help with process implementation and work flows in the Public Health Unit,” said Dr McBride.

Dr McBride isn’t just engaging her skills to help fight the virus. She will also be training two Western Sydney University PhD students and a number of medical students who are about to join the investigation team, and is strengthening ties with the Public Health Unit for possible future research projects engaging COVID-19 data. Until then, Dr McBride is taking it one day at a time and can’t wait to see her colleagues soon.

“This work has reiterated that we an incredible public health system filled with amazing people who are tirelessly working together to keep NSW safe. I'm in awe of so many of my colleagues here. While it might feel like we aren't winning at the moment, if we didn't have the restrictions, contact tracing, or vaccination opportunities our situation would be far, far worse by now. So, keep getting vaccinated, keep getting tested and following public health advice, and I can't wait to see all my amazing colleagues very soon!” said Dr McBride.

ENDS

17 September 2021

Emma Sandham, Senior Media Officer