Tāmaki Innovation Campus

eHealth - an inspired calling

Nouran Ragaban is living the dream in researching eHealth policy for her PhD; a dream she calls invigorating and the embodiment of her early realisation that ‘research is intriguing, with so many possibilities in what you can do and learn’.

She started her academic career with a bachelor’s degree at the University of South Carolina, majoring in biology. In her final two years, she worked on research projects including Alzheimer’s disease research around the amyloid precursor protein, to using fMRI to research adolescents diagnosed with ADHD.

“A lot of that work was in a nice clean lab, but in my last year, my research shifted from the lab to public health research on obesity in the African-American community. I was brought into a multi-million dollar National Institutes of Health-funded study and given the opportunity to have a leadership role in a pilot study component of the research.”

It sparked an interest in public health, along with policy, healthcare, technology and global development but the task was to make it into a challenging, yet enjoyable life’s work.

Everything clicked after coming to New Zealand and joining the Masters in Public Health (MPH) programme, when Nouran took the Health Informatics class and started talking with course lecturer Dr Karen Day, now her supervisor.

Her research topic of eHealth, sees her examining the strategies, people and structures leading to the development and implementation of the National Health IT Plan. This interest in eHealth aligned with the release of the National Health IT Plan and the passing of US policy around eHealth, formed her masters and now doctoral research.

“Healthcare is complex, and therefore the rules and bodies trying to govern it are inherently complex. Sometimes they are more so than necessary but again that’s why I enjoy – and get frustrated with - my research. There aren’t always clear drawn out lines and links but the PhD has allowed me to explore the literature, to conduct interviews, analyse the data and draw out and explore some of those reasons.”

Nouran’s take on PhD studies will strike a familiar echo with many of her counterparts. “When they tell you it’s a journey, they really mean it! It’s a great opportunity to learn so much about a topic and have the freedom, for a time, to explore and see what happens. While you can’t do that forever, the PhD does give you that freedom; it really does test you, and you quickly find out, in a short three year or so period, if this is the field you want to spend the rest of your life working in.”

Nouran says she has come to the realisation that this is, in fact, a great experience. “I’ve also appreciated the many great seminars at the University from local and international professionals working in my field who have helped reinforce my interest further.”

Another highlight she cherishes is getting to know other students. “Tāmaki especially has a really great mix of people from all over the world and you get to not only hear about other peoples’ research and the process that they took to get here, but also the diverse backgrounds and cultures,” she says.

Grabbing opportunities with both hands has included a current role as PhD representative, helping students connect when wading through unexplored territory.

It is, she says, a matter of making your own luck. “I’ve been fortunate to get some real world experience as a data analyst or working on policy analysis and eventually, I plan to work in the policy development and analysis space.”

This article was first published in the November 2013 Tāmaki Update