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Winner of the 2023 Dr Joan Faoagali Award

The Dr Joan Faoagali Award was set up by the College to honour Joan in celebration of her life and her considerable contribution to the IPC profession. The winner of the scholarship is awarded FIPC course fees. This year’s recipient is Kate Allen. We caught up with Kate to congratulate her on her award and discuss life and work in IPC.

Congratulations on your win Kate! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Can you tell us a bit about your current role?
I work in the Communicable Diseases Branch in Queensland Health. I’m a Public Health Nurse in the Communicable Diseases Infection Management team. My role involves liaising with public health units and the national incident room around referrals for contact tracing of notifiable conditions. My clinical portfolio is in acute respiratory infection, so I am involved in prevention campaigns for influenza, COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and the other suites of viruses that cause infection, and that’s an exciting space to be in winter.
I also have a role in policy and guidelines, making sure that our policies are evidence-based and as accessible as they can be for our stakeholders, most of whom are public health physicians and nurses, but also infectious diseases consultants and infection control practitioners in clinical settings.

What attracted you to a career in IPC?
I started in infection control six years ago and have always chosen nursing roles that focus on health promotion and disease prevention. My undergraduate degrees are in Nursing and Health Science, majoring in Public Health. Shortly after graduating, I started as a school-based youth health nurse in a regional area, there were some really interesting things we’d see in students, like scabies and other skin infections. My interest in infectious diseases continued and I moved into sexual health and HIV nursing, where I completed a Master of Advanced Practice degree.
I took a break from community nursing and started nursing in a thoracic ward. We had a lot of complex antibiotic regimens with our cystic fibrosis and COPD patients, and that was always fascinating to me in terms of the anti-microbial stewardship and looking at resistance profiles. It was on the thoracic ward that I became really interested in infection control, especially patient placement and transmission-based precautions.
I got an opportunity to take a secondment in the infection control team within that hospital, where I was able to sink my teeth into a couple of portfolios. I worked in the multi-resistant organisms (MROs) portfolio and staff health, and then COVID happened. I was involved in my hospital’s COVID response and worked closely with the clinical nurse consultant and infectious diseases physicians on how we were preparing our hospital for receiving COVID-19 patients, educating our staff and protecting them and our patients.
I’d been doing a lot in COVID-19, and then an opportunity came up in our COVID-19 Incident Management Team here at Queensland Health. I moved over there as an infection control practitioner, and that was when it got really exciting. I was at the at the nerve centre of Queensland’s response to COVID-19. As we transitioned back out of COVID-19 response, I moved back into the departmental infection control team to start a project on viral haemorrhagic fevers.

In your application you mentioned your plans to apply for advanced credentialling. What do you think credentialling will add to your professional career?
I think that credentialing provides legitimacy, and it’s a signal to other ICPs you might be interacting with about what your level of expertise and knowledge is. It also provides us with a professional framework to be able to acknowledge our learning and experience.

You recently completed the FIPC course, what did you enjoy about it the most?
I really enjoyed getting my nerd back on, especially in the microbiology module. I liked that the course was ‘multi-pitched.’ I don’t consider myself an experienced ICP, I do still feel like I’m earning my stripes. But I think the course had something for everybody, whether you’re an infection control lead in a residential care facility, or a ward nurse considering holding an infection control portfolio, or you’re an infection control practitioner who has learned everything on the job.
What I think that I gained most from the course was that I’m more aware of my blind spots now. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and so to be able to get a base understanding of the parts of infection control that I hadn’t really had a lot of exposure to was valuable. I think that regardless of where you enter there’s something to learn, and you could extend your learning, or just be happy with a base understanding of that content relevant to your role.
You clearly have a busy schedule. How do you like to relax?
I like to walk. I walk everywhere with my dog, with my kids, among the trees.
I have a miniature poodle called Toby. He’s one and a half and he really enjoys toilet rolls, which is why he needs to get lots of walks.
Our toilet rolls are strategically positioned out of his out of his reach because he is up to at least 50 toilet rolls that he’s destroyed in his very short life. It’s lucky we’re not in COVID-19 times anymore!

What would you say to anyone who might be sitting on the fence deciding whether or not to do the FIPC course?
Just do it! I have had a recent ‘course convert,’ someone who’s been on the fence for a long time, and they have just enrolled. I think it’s partly because they’ve been watching me go through the course, and I reassured them that it was complex and interesting enough to hold their attention, while being achievable to complete even while working full time and managing family commitments as well.