Renowned US public health educator comes to Flinders

kristine1Kristine Gebbie, an internationally renowned public health educator and practitioner who “retired” from the US to Adelaide, is now a Professorial Fellow in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Flinders.

In choosing a place to “retire”, she and her husband worked from a list of criteria which included no snow in winter, low humidity, and relatively stable government. They had visited Australia previously, but not Adelaide.

Her husband chanced across an article about Adelaide and during an exploratory visit here made the decision to emigrate and bought an apartment in Hindmarsh Square “off the plan”.

The School of Nursing and Midwifery supported their visa application under the Distinguished Talent category; her connection with School Dean, Paul Arbon goes back a number of years through mutual professional interests.

Such a move is understandable given her credo is “Who said we can’t do that, how do I get on that committee?”

Professor Gebbie served as Public Health Director for two US states, Oregon and Washington State, and was the first White House AIDS Policy Coordinator – a White House media release describes her as the “AIDS Czar”.

Immediately prior to coming to Adelaide, she was Dean of Nursing at City University of New York, after serving 14 years as Professor of Nursing and Director, Center for Health Policy at Columbia School of Nursing.

Some years ago, she asked the questions “What do people need to know to practice properly and how do you train people for disasters?”

Her interest in this field stems from her time in Oregon and the Mt St Helen’s eruption and deliberately caused emergencies such as a food-borne salmonellosis outbreak and cyanide tampering of over-the-counter medication attributed to members of the Rajneesh cult. Three days before the events of 9/11, she had just finished running a disaster training course for nurses, who were then able to apply their newly acquired knowledge in the worst of circumstances.

Since coming to Adelaide, Professor Gebbie has also been working  with the Torrens Resilience Institute in which Flinders is a partner, and which aims to improve the capacity of organisations and societies to respond to disruptive challenges having the potential to overwhelm local disaster management capabilities and plans.

Her view overall is that resilience training in Australia is very advanced.

“In Australia,” she says, “South Australian emergency services are really ready for fires, and whilst Queensland is great on floods, it may not be so ready for earthquakes.”

UCLA will shortly recognise Professor Gebbie with one of its Nurse 21 Awards for inspiring individuals helping to transform the nursing profession and raising awareness of the valuable role nurses play in 21st century healthcare.

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