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Changing the healthcare system for the better

Bringing an implementation science lens to Monash’s very own clinical research, is one of the many ways Zahra is streamlining the process.

Zahra was born and raised in Pakistan where she completed a degree in business, information systems and social sciences. It wasn’t until she worked closely with a team of community health doctors and nurses as an information system coordinator at a health organisation (Aga Khan Health Service, Pakistan), that she got her first taste for the healthcare industry.

A few years later Zahra began working on various health projects, alongside international health organisations and donors such as USAID, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM), UNICEF and WHO. It was here where Zahra did a lot of her groundwork, before deciding to undertake a Master of Public Health and a PhD in behavioural sciences.

Now, she specialises in implementation science, helping to promote the uptake of research findings into routine healthcare practice. She is also a Lecturer and Deputy Course Convener for Monash Online’s Graduate Diploma of Psychology Advanced.

Helping research help people

Zahra is on a mission to bridge the gap between research and practice in healthcare. She believes delays can be a waste of scarce resources and a sacrifice of potential patient benefit. Although some time is necessary to ensure the safety and efficacy of new interventions or advances, she believes reducing the time it takes for research to start having an impact will help save countless lives and propel the healthcare system forward in leaps and bounds. This motivation to change the healthcare system all stemmed from a damning statistic…

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‘It can take 17 years for research to reach the real world.’

One such example of this lag, Zahra noted, was in diabetes prevention. As early as 1997 several large research trials demonstrated that lifestyle interventions including physical activity and a healthy diet could drastically reduce the risk of diabetes in high-risk populations.

Yet since then, type 2 diabetes has risen. This inspired Zahra to undertake a systematic review to investigate why progress was failing to be made. Her approach was based on the principles of implementation science. This systematic review was published in Implementation Science Journal in 2015 during Zahra’s PhD research years and was ranked as one of the top 10 most influential papers in implementation science that year. It continues to be widely cited.

Unfortunately, many patients hopeful of advancements in technology and medical breakthroughs, are often left on hold by this laborious process of translating research to real-world practice. Zahra is constantly looking for ways to streamline the process.

Integrating students into real research

Bringing an implementation science lens to Monash’s very own clinical research, is one of the many ways Zahra is helping streamline the process. Several Monash Online students were already collecting data for their research projects, so she posed the question ‘why not get them involved in research already being done by Monash staff?’ First Zahra collaborated with research institutes within Monash, now she is in the process of expanding this collaboration to external institutions. Through these collaborations, students have an opportunity to help understand the facilitators and barriers that influence the transferability of important clinical research to wider populations.

“We would always ask ourselves why would people use this? Why not? What are the real-world concerns?”

These are all questions Zahra’s students are helping researchers to answer.

Developing an engaging online study model

Zahra’s innate instinct to question everything is a trait that translates through to Monash Online’s Graduate Diploma of Psychology Advanced, which she helped design. She believes the freedom and flexibility to study online shouldn’t come at a cost to engagement and learning quality. It’s why students are given the golden opportunity to study online, whilst still having access to quality one-on-one time with staff.

“I think the course is quite unique and pioneering with its online supervision model.”

It’s these flexible and rich learning experiences designed by those who change it, like Zahra, that are inspiring a new wave of Monash Online students to create their own change too. Change that will span industries and have a positive, long-lasting impact in the real-world.

Learn more if you want to be at the forefront of the transformation in the healthcare system.

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