“You just have to learn as you go”
Nicolette Zingerle studied a Master of Public Health at the University of Melbourne, graduating in 2015.
After graduation, she packed her bags and moved to Perth, Western Australia, where she’s currently participating in the WA Department of Health’s graduate program.
Today, she shares her experiences transitioning from study to work, and explains what she’s learnt since taking on her new role.
What made you decide to apply for the WA Department of Health graduate program? What’s involved in your role?
I applied for the program specifically as I wanted to pursue a career in public health and policy related work. Western Australia provides a unique set of challenges within this context. These include the diversity of public health settings and the challenges associated with large distances. It is also a very progressive state in terms of health care reform and clinical redesign initiatives.
I had to weigh those benefits against the prospect of moving interstate, but eventually convinced myself that it would be worthwhile to step outside my comfort zone. I am glad to report that it has been a great choice for me!
Within my role as a Graduate Officer, I pursue placements with different departments and health services associated with the WA Department of Health every four months. The mandate for each team is different – and hence the requirements for the role are diverse.
I have found myself engaging clinical staff in a change management initiative; I have redesigned a clinical pathway at a major health service; and most recently I have been working on one of the largest health care reform initiatives in the state’s history.
It has meant that there have been some unique learning opportunities and I have been able to utilise my knowledge and experience in the realm of public health for the benefit of my teams.
How did you find the transition from study to full-time work?
I was lucky that I was already working full-time, as a Nurse, while studying for my Masters.
The transition to the Graduate Program had some other challenges for me, including working at a graduate level in a new field when I had previously worked within a clinical role for many years.
Moving away from my home state and starting afresh in a new environment had its own challenges, as well.
How well did your Masters prepare you for your new role?
My Master of Public Health prepared me well in a theoretical sense for the challenges that lay ahead.
I would highly recommend that graduates organise work experience opportunities that align with their field of interest in order to learn the most relevant skills needed for their target role.
I managed to organise this type of exposure both within and outside my degree while I pursued the Masters.
What kinds of things do you wish you knew before beginning in this role?
I was used to working in a high stakes environment with a clinical focus – this is vastly different from the modern corporate work place!
We are not as autonomous in our decision making – it is much more collaborative and we have much more time available for consultation. This means that soft skills such as networking and relationship building are much more important.
The logistical things and how a new workplace runs (what to wear, types of meetings etc) you have to just learn as you go. No question is a stupid question and knowing the basics about what attire is expected, how to address people or correspond appropriately are all important things you will need to learn at a work place.
In my opinion, universities, employers and students are all responsible for helping to bridge these gaps and ease the transition to new workplaces.
Universities need to understand the changing environment of the workforce, including the recruitment processes. It won’t be enough to teach the theoretical knowledge and expect students to get worthy employment at the end of their degree.
Individuals need to take responsibility for understanding how employment has changed over the course of time, and how many people are out there looking for work. The employer’s responsibility comes into play once you are hired by them!
What would be your advice for current postgrads at UniMelb, who are considering careers like yours?
Don’t be afraid to look outside your comfort zone. Have a Plan B and C and D…..not everything will fall into place after you graduate!
Having a postgraduate qualification is a step in the right direction but you will need to back it up with a solid interest in the field you are pursuing. You need to show engagement and that comes from networking – and I hate to say it but having a job while you are studying helps. It is hard to just have a university degree and secure a position these days.
My advice is don’t just rest on your university degree. Getting a job comes down to how well prepared you are for a specific role.
In the workplace people are genuinely interested in ‘what’ you can deliver rather than ‘where’ those skills were acquired.
Having said that, UniMelb is a great place with academics and staff who will go out of their way to help you if you are interested in acquiring the right skill set.
WA Health Graduate Development Program:
If you would like additional information on the WA Health Graduate Program, check us out online!
You can also read our latest Graduate Focus to find out more about the projects and professional development activities made available to our Graduate Officers in 2016.
Online applications for the following 2018 WA Health Graduate Program Streams are now open.
This post is part of our Mind the Gap series, helping graduate students transition between study and work.