Academic spotlight: Assoc. Prof. Hannah Wechkunanukul combines passion with purpose for public health career

Hannah Wechkunanukul

Assoc. Prof. Wechkunanukul stepped outside her comfort zone when she left Thailand for Australia to pursue her passion for public health.

You have a background in pharmacy. Can you tell us about your professional experience?

I worked for almost two decades in pharmacy. During this time, I gained invaluable experience and skills. In 1993, I started a pharmacist role at a public hospital in Thailand as head of the pharmacy department. In this position, I also worked as a public health officer and community educator, which broadened my expertise immensely. In 2004,  I had a partnership with many universities across Thailand to develop and conduct a community pharmacy intern program. I also owned and managed four pharmacies for 15 years. I really enjoyed being a pharmacist and learning about the business side of my profession. In 2007, I was honoured to be awarded the most outstanding pharmacist  in community pharmacy in Northern Thailand.

Why did you move to Australia – and what lessons did you learn here?

Having had a fulfilling career (and life) up until my 30s in Thailand, I was looking for a future that took me outside of my comfort zone. The idea to move countries started with a very simple desire to acquire a better education and broaden my opportunities, particularly for my little daughters. In 2008, I arrived in Australia with my family – and a real sense of adventure. I learnt so many lessons during my early years here. I learnt to be open to opportunities, stay positive and motivated, and enjoy every single moment (even the tough times). Seeing the world through different lenses is the best way to achieve a happy and prosperous life, especially while studying and working abroad.

hannah performing
The genuine beauty of arts is ‘a joyful and wordless conversation’ between human beings: Lotus Festival at Art Gallery 2010, Adelaide SA

Photo credits: Assoc. Prof. Hannah Wechkunanukul

You studied two postgraduate degrees in public health: Health Service Management and Primary Healthcare. Can you tell us about your academic background and why you chose to switch fields? 

I have a passion for working in public health – especially health promotion, inequities and population health. I did two postgraduate degrees in public health to deepen my knowledge of healthcare systems, health promotion and health services. Following my passion for research and public health, I went on to do a PhD in 2016 focused on inequities and accessibility of cardiovascular care among migrant populations (“Ethnic differences in seeking medical care for chest pain among culturally and linguistically diverse populations in Australia”). During my PhD candidature, I  completed a tertiary teaching course and began my teaching career in Australia. 

In the past eight years, I taught a  range of topics at several universities in Australia., In 2020, I joined Torrens University as a Senior Lecturer based at the Wakefield Street campus in Adelaide. I am so proud to be part of the Public Health Department here and currently, serve university as Associate Professor of Public Health.  I also voluntarily serve as a reviewer for many research journals covering topics related to my expertise such as health services, ethnicity and digital health.

Presentation Day’s celebration – Class of PUBH6006 T2 2021

Celebrating at every single step of the journey is a crucial part of effective learning: Presentation Day’s celebration – Class of PUBH6006 T2 2021

 Photo credits: Assoc. Prof. Hannah Wechkunanukul

What does your typical week look like as Associate Professor of Public Health – and what do you like most about working at Torrens University? 

My normal week is a mix of research and academic roles that connect me to students, academics and non-academic staff, experts in the public health industry, researchers at Torrens University and external research teams in Australia and abroad. It’s generally a busy week, but it’s always filled with smiles and laughs. 

Torrens University has a unique working environment and culture that is truly impressive. I love the collaboration (rather than competition) among staff at all levels. From an academic perspective, the diversity of the students provides great inspiration for teaching. It allows us to learn from a broad range of perspectives and experiences, which is ideal for learning and teaching public health. 

Joining the research team at Torrens University has been an immensely rewarding experience for me. I can fully utilise my expertise and skill set to drive and lead research projects. I really enjoy the enthusiastic support from the Research Office and research fellows.

Success of Class PUBH6000 T1 2021

We can really taste the unhypocritical achievement when the team is holding hands and sharing smiley faces - Success of Class PUBH6000 T1 2021

 Photo credits: Assoc. Prof. Hannah Wechkunanukul

You have led many research projects in Australia and internationally – can you tell us about them? 

I have been working on four research projects in Australia and two collaborative projects with international research teams. Two projects in Australia aim to utilise digital health intervention to address health inequities and accessibility of cardiovascular care and chronic disease among disadvantaged populations, particularly cultural and linguistically diverse populations.

Another project is about data correlation, focusing on link data from hospital and Population Health Areas (PHAs) from Public Health Information Development Unit (PHIDU).

I have also been co-leading an educational research project granted by the 2021 Torrens Global Education Fellowship. It aims to develop and implement a co-design academic integrity model (Co-AIM) to increase awareness and best practice of academic integrity among students.

In addition, I have been co-leading two research projects in Thailand. One project aims to improve health services for the elderly population, while the other is focusing on integrating technology into health services to reduce the risk of having coronary health disease in patients with hypertension or diabetes.

 hannah in traditional dress

Cultural diversity refers to dispelling the differences and nourishing respect and harmony in the society: Australia Day 2011, Adelaide SA

Photo credits: Assoc. Prof. Hannah Wechkunanukul

You have been involved in research and academic committees at state and national levels – can you tell us what this means for Torrens University?

I'm so honoured to represent Torrens University at these working groups. Since May 2021, I have been involving in the Education Quality and Standards Working Group established by the Council of Academic Public Health Institutions Australasia. We are working on improving the quality of public health education programs, focusing on training and internships, as well as workforce and national public health education standards in Australasia.

Recently, I joined the Women’s Health Research, Translation and Impact Network Steering Committee and the Patient Reported Measures Research Collaborative Workshop to work collaboratively with external researchers to translate research into practice for healthier life in Australia and create opportunities for our researchers at state and national levels.

 hannah at channel 10 ten kms record reached

The prestigious award at the finish line is another starting point: City -To-Bay Fun Run 2014, Adelaide SA

Photo credits: Assoc. Prof. Hannah Wechkunanukul

It’s clear you’re passionate about your career. When you’re not at work, what do you enjoy doing? 

I spend most of my free time with family, enjoying activities at home and outdoors. On a beautiful day, I like walking along the River Torrens in the city or Somerton Beach – and working on my succulent plant collection at home. On a cloudy day, I like to relax, listen to music, sing, play guitar, read and watch movies. Besides my family, I love to help others in the community. Since 2011, I have volunteered as president of the Thai Students and Alumni Association of South Australia.
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