Sunday, 10 July 2016

Meet STAREE star Professor Sophia Zoungas

Professor Sophia Zoungas is the Professorial Chair of Diabetes, Vascular Health and Ageing and Deputy Director of the Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation (MCHRI) at SPHPM. She began working at Monash University in 2008 as a Senior Research Fellow and is now the leading investigator on the STAtin therapy for Reducing Events in the Elderly (STAREE) trial.

Q:
Where did you work prior to starting at the University?

A:
In 2003 I commenced as a Consultant Endocrinologist/Physician at Monash Health and this is a continuing role. In 2008 I headed to Sydney for a couple of years and was Head of the Diabetes Research Program at The George Institute for Global Health. I currently hold an Honorary Professorial Research Fellow position at The George Institute.

Q: Tell us more about your background - how did you get here?

A: During high school I always knew that I wanted to work toward medicine or economics, hoping to have an impact on my community. Medicine was the more natural choice for me and given that family and friends always sought my opinion about their health I steered towards medicine at University. I am an avid learner and I continually seek to find ways to empower people to make more informed choices about their health. Education is power.

Q: What do you like best about your role?

A:
I enjoy having a dual clinical and research role. It’s a great balance between patient engagement and putting knowledge into practice while research allows me to work towards filling the gaps in our knowledge about clinical practice. It’s rewarding being able to generate research evidence to discover unknown elements then potentially work towards implementing positive change into clinical practice. It benefits my patients and as well as the medical profession at large.

Q: Why did you choose your current career path?

A:
An opportunity to work as a Clinician Researcher on projects with large impact on understanding public health, prevention and best practice.

Q: What project are you currently working on and what does it involve?

A:
Currently, one of my main focuses is being the lead investigator on a large, population based, community driven and randomised controlled study looking at the benefits and risks of statin therapy (versus placebo) in people aged 70 and over (STAREE study). Fortunately I am supported by a valuable and dedicated team of associate investigators, researchers and staff across four sites in Australia. Each team member brings something new and invigorating into the project and I try and foster a multi-skilled team base whereby we can all slot into multiple roles and support each other to achieve our research targets and goals.

Q: In your opinion, what are some of the greatest challenges facing public health?

A: Funding is a significant barrier to conducting large and complex public health trials so you have to be strategic in producing outcomes with limited resources. You do have to spend quite a considerable amount of time sourcing funding and seeking support to keep the research going.
Another challenge, for STAREE specifically, is the impact media can have on public opinion about treatment. We just have to recall the fallout from an ABC catalyst program in October 2013, “The heart of the matter” to know that the media can steer people toward making some life changing health choices that potentially have costly consequences.

Q: Anything else of interest you wish to discuss?

A: I am looking forward to seeing how my research unit strengthens and STAREE progresses in the coming year. We have big goals to reach and we are on our way to doing so. With the breadth and depth of talent within my unit and across SPHPM, we have a thriving environment for sharing knowledge and skills that can only be a positive propeller in building the school’s reputation for becoming leaders in the field of conducting rigorous and globally preeminent research.

Q:
Choose three words that best describe SPHPM:

A: Collegiate, Humanitarian and Propitious.

Q: Tell us something about yourself that your colleagues wouldn’t know.

A: Mice unsettle me for some reason despite the years I spent in labs. Perhaps it’s due to the fact they move quickly!

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