Professor Lisa Jackson Pulver is one of Australia’s most recognised experts in public health. An epidemiologist, she’s had an illustrious career in public health research, and is currently the Deputy Vice Chancellor Indigenous Strategy and Services at the University of Sydney.
A proud Wiradjuri woman, she’s also on the executive of OzSAGE, a group of independent experts that are not beholden to government or companies, and are able to provide the very best advice to the public. She’s passionate about communicating health information, and at the moment, is focusing on getting the message out that vaccinations for COVID-19 are safe and effective.
“Vaccine technology is not new. Vaccines have been around for a long time and there is a lot of intelligence into vaccine,” she shares with Shirley Chowdhary in the latest episode of The Leadership Lessons.
“There are hundreds of thousands of people working every minute of every day, somewhere around the world, on improving what we’re doing and adding to the knowledge base.”
Professor Jackson Pulver says taking the COVID-19 “is safe. It is effective. It is an act of love…an absolute act of love to your community, to your people, and to your nation to have this jab because we have to get Covid behind us.”
As she explains in the podcast, Professor Jackson Pulver wouldn’t want people to assume she’s always been on a “path of privilege”, noting that her childhood was far from a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle.
“I remember once I was doing this talk and I was introduced as this big, esteemed professor type person,” she tells Shirley in the podcast. “And I was talking at the table with someone just before I was introduced and they go, “Wow. You must have gone to a good school. What school did you go to?”
“And I thought, oh my God, and the penny dropped. I think people see where you are now and assume that you’ve always been on this path of privilege.
“I feel very privileged to be in the role that I’m in, but I don’t consider myself privileged, right?”
Jackson Pulver shares more on her childhood in the podcast, including that she is a survivor of child sexual abuse, that her siblings and herself often went hungry, and she became homeless at the age of fourteen after leaving home to escape abuse. After meeting an outreach nun, Jackson Pulver was advised to get into nursing, because at the time it was a hospital-based training program and you were able to live at a nurse’s home while you trained.
“They give you a nice fancy uniform, three meals a day, and a room whose door you could lock. Critical,” she said. “It just changed my world because all of a sudden I was safe. I was secure. I was learning a trade.”
After dabbling in nursing and some creative fields, Jackson Pulver made her way into a medical degree at the University of Sydney, before switching to a Master of Public Health, after she found herself suddenly caring for some children in her extended family.
“So, I did a masters of public health and I haven’t gone backward. I just love public health. I thought it was just the best thing since sliced bread. And so, I went off and did a graduate diploma of epidemiology. I became an epidemiologist, you know, investigating outbreaks, leading public health teams, contact tracing, you know, did all that stuff for people.”
She went on to do a PhD, and has enjoyed a career in academia ever since.
“I’d just like people to recognise that not all of us in these esteemed positions are people that have come through a regular path,” she says. “Now actually, I don’t really know what a regular path is anymore.”
Jackson Pulver shares that one of the reasons she survived her childhood is because she was able to envisage a different future. And it’s what drives her today to help other people from disadvantaged backgrounds enter university.
“I had fantasies about my future,” she says. “What I did have was an ability to put one foot after the other and to do something. I recognised that I am not the sum of my upbringing.”
“It does drive me and compel me to kick open that door to the university for people like myself and others to come in. Having our diversity, our stories, backgrounds, histories, communities, and families in the door make a university a much better place.”
You can hear more from Professor Lisa Jackson Pulver in this week’s episode of The Leadership Lessons, a podcast made possible thanks to the support of Salesforce. You can listen here, or subscribe via Apple Podcasts or Spotify.