Integration of Public Health into AUSMAT training

13 Jun 2023

Written by Dr Maya Cherian, Public Health Medical Officer

The National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre (NCCTRC) Public Health Directorate (PHD) has an exciting year ahead, working towards further integrating a public health approach into the Australian Medical Assistance Team’s DNA.

NCCTRC and AUSMAT were originally established to focus on disaster response, with public health previously being an additional skill or set of skills within an AUSMAT team. The 2019 Samoa measles outbreak and subsequent AUSMAT deployment, followed by more than 18 domestic and international public health emergency response missions during the COVID-19 pandemic, confirmed public health as an integral part of a health emergency response. The need for the formalisation of public health within AUSMAT was recognised and the NCCTRC PHD was established.

The PHD consists of clinical and research public health staff with a public health physician lead. The PHD is guided by the Public Health Working Group (PHWG), an advisory panel of key public health experts from across Australia. The PHWG is implementing a work plan of which a key objective is to integrate public health further into AUSMAT, an initiative being undertaken in collaboration with the NCCTRC Education team.



The AUSMAT Team Member Course is a mandatory training component for consideration for an AUSMAT deployment. The course has long included a series of sessions dedicated to areas of public health, including mission camp planning, water, sanitation and hygiene, environmental health and food management. By strengthening public health components of the AUSMAT course, as of 2023 there has been an increase in public health related theoretical and practical elements, both online and in-person.

A public health e-learning module was integrated into the AUSMAT Team Member course pre-course reading in May 2023. After completion of the pre-learning module, participants were able to attend the in-person course with baseline knowledge on public health in health emergencies and within the AUSMAT context. The pre-learning module will continue to be a pre-requisite for all participants attending the AUSMAT Team Member course into the future.

Since the implementation of public health focussed modules into the five-day AUSMAT course, participants have gained exposure to key public health principles relevant to an AUSMAT deployment and engaged with key faculty members in regard to their public health experiences while on deployment. Throughout the week participants engaged in a range of exercises in and out of a classroom setting, including theory, quizzes and practical interaction with public health scenarios.

Looking forward, the PHD are working toward the implementation of a public health specialist course, with a focus on applied public health in the AUSMAT context. The PHD are currently surveying the AUSMAT workforce to determine its public health capability and to identify public health specialists. The public health specialist course will be a first for AUSMAT and an important step towards specialised public health practice on deployment to support our Indo-Pacific neighbours in times of such emergencies.

NCCTRC and the PHD are excited for these key initiatives and the opportunity to grow public health knowledge within the broader AUSMAT family.

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Dr Maya Cherian
Public Health Medical Officer

Maya joined the NCCTRC Public Health Directorate in 2023 as a Public Health Registrar, a final year advanced trainee with the Australasian Faculty of Public health Medicine. Maya comes to NCCTRC after working for the Office of the Chief Health Officer and the Health Statistics and Informatics branch within NT Health. Maya has been able to gain experience in the areas of Aboriginal health, public policy, communicable diseases and statistics whilst in the NT. Maya is excited to contribute to the fabric of the organisation and assist in enhancing the public health components of NCCTRC, through education, research and enhancing capabilities alongside the public health workforce on the AUSMAT roster.