Dietitian Dr Leanne Brown is working towards improving the health of rural Australians, as well as the sustainability of the clinical workforce who look after them.
Leanne is an Associate Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics and Academic Lead for Teaching and Learning at the University of Newcastle, Department of Rural Health (UONDRH).
An Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian with more than 20 years’ experience in the dietetics profession, Leanne joined the UONDRH in Tamworth in 2003. This move came after eight years working as a clinical dietitian in acute hospital settings and was driven by a desire to return to the country and explore working in a mixed clinical, teaching and research role.
Leanne completed her PhD (Nutrition and Dietetics) through the University of Newcastle in 2009, with her doctoral research investigating the barriers to the provision of best-practice dietetic services in rural areas.
Her ongoing research interests are focused on investigating rural service delivery models and the broader translation of food and nutrition research into rural and regional settings, to support good health and prevent chronic disease.
Nutrition and diet
Leanne’s work is readily translational to public health programs that can change health outcomes, especially in a rural context.
‘Obviously the further you go out from major cities, the more difficult and expensive access to fresh food becomes.
‘If you don’t have a lot of income or accessible transport, and you live in a part of town that is only serviced by corner shops and takeaways, your food choices are very limited.’
One area of possible change that Leanne is a strong advocate for is implementing lifestyle change instead, to combat health risks related to ill-health such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes.
‘We are trying to intervene earlier and support people to try some dietary changes, and [we use] a range of methods to engage with and follow people up, as opposed to having to wait for appointments.’
Rural focus on learning
As Academic Lead for Teaching and Learning at UONDRH, Leanne supports students undertaking rural placements to navigate practice-based education, learning and assessment.
‘We have year-long rural student attachments that provide coursework support and placements across a range of allied health disciplines,’ Leanne explains.
‘Our program brings students together on a regular basis and engages them in interprofessional activities focused on a health topic, teamwork or communication skill relevant across disciplines.
‘Our role is also to provide continuing professional development locally, so we organise speakers and information days on relevant topics for students and clinicians.
‘We have also developed local graduate networks that offer new practitioners professional and social support to work in local rural areas.’
Looking to the future, Leanne will continue several ongoing collaborations and her own research with key collaborations working in concert with Laureate Professor Clare Collins to replicate urban nutrition studies in the rural landscape. An exciting new collaboration with rural-based dietetic researchers is focused on expanding an investigation of the use of brief nutrition interventions for rural populations attending community-based events.
Starting with just one local rural doctoral student in 2014, there are a now a total of seven research higher degree students, across three rural sites, working on a diverse range of projects. The future is bright for rural research with a growing team of dietetics professionals with research qualifications. Recruitment of two academics with doctoral qualifications in the past five years, and collaboration on a Medical Research Future Fund research project, has seen the team go from strength to strength.
‘Given the nutrition-related health issues in rural areas, we will be looking to implement and evaluate community-based interventions so there are further opportunities for doctoral students to be involved in positive change in rural communities.’