Recognised for rural health research

Dr Kate Fennell was one of three University of South Australia researchers to be recently recognised through the Young Tall Poppy Science Awards.

Dr Fennell’s research is focused on improving scientific understanding of the health and mental health needs of rural communities.

The Mount Cooper-born researcher’s work has helped in the delivery of previously unavailable support services and also in wider awareness of the unique needs of this disadvantaged group.

Dr Fennell said it was a “nice surprise” to be given the award.

“First of all, it was nice to be nominated, then it was exciting to be given the award and to be recognised for the work I do to improve health in rural communities,” she said.

Dr Fennell has worked in rural health and mental health for nine years and said her upbringing at Mount Cooper is what sparked her interest the field.

“Rural people are more likely to have poorer health than people who live in the city, and farmers are likely to have poorer mental health too.”

She said it was a neglected field and said there were improvements which could be made to rural health.

“It is important that people in urban areas realise people living in rural areas have unique health and mental health needs,” she said.

“It would be good if health services could be less city-centric.

“There are not too many people interested in the field, which is surprising given one-third of the population live in rural areas – more research needs to be done to find appropriate, new, cost effective ways of delivering the help they need.”

Dr Fennell is in the process of developing a YouTube channel called ‘Rural Cancer Stories’ which will feature stories and advice from rural cancer survivors and their carers so that country people who cannot access face-to-face cancer support can still access information support from people who face similar challenges.

"It is important that people in urban areas realise people living in rural areas have unique health and mental health needs."

Dr Kate Fennell

She said it was about creating a resource specifically targeting issues rural cancer survivors face.

Dr Fennell said she hoped her next step would take her to the United States and Netherlands to further her research.

She has applied for a Churchill Fellowship and will find out the result of that within the next month.

“If I got that I could travel to USA and the Netherlands to find out about new methods that we could test out in Australia, to better address rural cancer survivors’ post-treatment needs.”

She said the US were very good at developing and delivering interventions that effectively target the specific needs of rural survivors, while the Dutch lead the way in using the internet to deliver support to cancer survivors.

“I want to find out about new ways we could better support rural cancer patients when their treatment has finished and they have returned home, to manage their ongoing recovery and reduce their chances of cancer reoccurring.”

In the next couple of months, Dr Fennell will also launch a new website www.ifarmwell.com.au which has been designed to improve farmers’ wellbeing and help them adopt effective coping strategies, when they are faced with challenges such as drought.

“It has been designed based on what Australian farmers have said they want and what research shows will help,” she said.

“The website aims to assist both those who are currently experiencing poor mental health and those who would like some new tools to improve their ability to cope with stress and prevent the development of mental health issues.

“We are currently looking for Australian farmers to it out.”

To register your interest in assisting, please email farmers@unisa.edu.au