Building peer support for Women in Tropical Health (WITH)

‘The progression of women within academia is different from their male counterparts, and women have a lot to offer the health workforce’ – Teresa Wozniak, who cofounded WITH, speaks on building a peer support network for Women in Tropical Health (WITH).

When Teresa Wozniak first moved to Darwin she had a lot of research ideas, but very few people to share in them. The professional isolation she faced set this new place apart from her previous home in Sydney, and she wanted to do something about it.

Conversations with colleagues in remote northern locations revealed that many were struggling to build professional connections, especially women.

Teresa’s idea of beginning a network and mentorship program for women pursuing careers in tropical health was met with strong support from HOT NORTH. Discussions began with Anna Ralph, Louise Maple-Brown, and Debbie Hall to put the idea into motion.

The HOT NORTH Women in Tropical Health (WITH) Network was established in 2016 and now connects 150 members of the health workforce across different locations and disciplines. The network is inclusive of all fields related to health, and has members across varying professional levels and interests all invested in improving heath outcomes for rural and regional Australians.
Once a month, members of the network gather to talk about a topic of interest, sometimes inviting a speaker.

‘Even if only 20 people attend, it makes a difference having a support network and a safe place to talk about things that are important and common among all of us, despite being in different geographic and professional “places”.’

In the network’s first year, guest speakers were usually health professionals sharing insights and experiences for inspiration. More recently, the network has shifted toward skills-oriented speakers, such as resilience trainers. In March 2019, the network launched Catalyse, the first mentorship program of its kind, supporting a cohort of 10 WITH network mentees. This program pairs women early in their careers with academic and corporate leaders who provide advice, encouragement and support.

The WITH Network joins efforts with other peer support mechanisms such as the NT Government funded Women in Leadership Network, which now includes WITH members in its events invitations. Teresa explains that this sort of cross-pollination is key to the network’s strength and sustainability:

‘The more multidisciplinary we are the more we’ll be able to cope with health challenges… a network can start off with a few people who are passionate but it needs to end up somewhere more formal and connected.’