Monthly Profiles

Dr Rene English

August 2013 | Director, Health Systems Research Unit, Health Systems Trust

Dr Rene EnglishDr Rene English (MBChB, MMED, FCPHM, PhD) is a medical doctor who has specialised in the field of Public Health Medicine. She is currently the Director of the Health Systems Research Unit, at the Health Systems Trust.

1) Briefly describe what your job involves.
Our organisation conducts research that aims to strengthen the public health system in South Africa. We also produce two flagship publications that review the performance of the health system. I manage the Health Systems Research Unit and am involved in designing the studies and projects, provide focused direction, communicating with our stakeholders and partners, mentoring staff and giving input into all our outputs.

2) What would a typical day at the office/clinic involve?
A typical day at the office is a juggle between administration such as responding to emails, reviewing reports and documents, and conducting meetings with staff, partners, stakeholders or future clients.

3) Can you describe the most exciting (coolest) part of your job?
The most exciting part of my job is thinking up new projects and innovations to address problems or challenges in our health system, and working closely with those who work in the health system each day to ensure that we develop practical, locally-applicable solutions to improve service delivery.

4) What would be your favourite part of your job?
Starting up a project and working with those who deliver health to our communities to develop innovative solutions which can then be tested to see if it works within the community environment. When this is shown to work and is adopted by those who deliver the services, then I am most satisfied.

5) What would be your least favourite part of your job?
The least favourite part of my job is doing administrative work. I would much rather spend my entire day dreaming up solutions to our ailing health system, and finding ways to research these.

6) How did you make your career choice?
My decision to become a medical doctor wasbecause I wanted to help people. My decision to specialise in Public Health Medicine was influenced by my time working in the hospitals and clinics where I spent time with both patients and medical staff. I was always concerned about the roleof all the factorsthat affected the health of the people living in our communities. I also often looked at the health professionals (medical staff) and their managers and could see solutions to problems that if used would improve care at these clinics/ hospitals. I also realised that if health professionals took the time to listen and talk to the patients and to each other, relationships would improve and people will take more responsibility for their own health.

7) What qualifications do you require to work in your field?
To be a doctor you must study medicine (MBChB). For public health medicine, you require a MMED (Masters in Medicine) and a FCPHM (Fellowship in Public Health Medicine, College of Medicine in South Africa. I also have a Doctorate degree (PhD) which is an added benefit.

8) Can you describe the most important skills you require for this work environment?
Leadership and management skills, problem-solving, must be able to multi-task, think strategically, work in a team, research skills, broad knowledge of the public health sector.

9) What does leadership mean to you?
To me leadership is first about being able to lead oneself – integrity, discipline and respect for oneself. In the work context it is about taking a group of people for whom you are responsible and enabling them to attain the overall goal of the organisation as well as their personal goals through knowing their strengths and enabling them in such a way that through development of self, they are able to collectively attain the organisational goals. It is not about me knowing and doing everything, but about listening to each person, walking alongside the team and allowing them to work in their areas of strength.

10) What advice would you give girls who are considering a career in science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM)?
Many young girls want to follow a career in STEM but do not have the necessary role models or do not know anyone who can assist them with making the right career choices. My advice would be that these girls should be bold enough to make contact with relevant higher education departments or relevant companies and consider volunteering or interning during their holiday time. This gives them exposure, makes them see whether STEM is what they wish to do, and creates opportunities for them to get to know people in the field. Young people do not always understand the value of creating networks and what being a volunteer says about them to future employees. I would also advise them to be happy to ‘walk before they run’ – and as a volunteer, intern or junior staff member, be willing to do anything asked of them. Not only will this grow them as people, but they will also be able to say ‘been there, done that’ which adds considerably to their credibility in their future jobs.