Meet Professor Kristine Macartney

Professor Kristine Macartney is the Director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance (NCIRS) within Kids Research at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead.

As Director, Kristine leads a team of close to 80 experts and postgraduate students in public health, infectious diseases, epidemiology, social sciences and clinical research.

How are you pushing the boundaries in your field?

In a number of ways during the pandemic! My field of research is vaccines and vaccine preventable diseases so it has been an incredible journey since COVID-19 exploded into our lives.  I knew from the get-go, that the whole world would be working towards a common goal to develop a vaccine – we’ve gone from work on day 1 to understand disease transmission to now working round the clock to support COVID-19 vaccine introduction in Australia and internationally.

My personal interest is to derive and translate evidence from clinical research and clinical trials into real-world policy and programs and evaluation. It has been a great privilege to assist with determining how can the best evidence be brought to bear but to underpin the rollout of a vaccine to the Australian public and to countries in our region.

This has been the most incredible opportunity of my career personally but also really challenging to know what to prioritise.  There are still many years ahead until we can settle into a pattern of ‘predictable’ prevention of COVID-19 using vaccination as well as other public health measures – I remain excited to see us triumph over this virus, but know it will also take time.

Why is empowering other women important to you?

I find great satisfaction in supporting and working with the next generation of researchers in vaccinology, immunisation and public health. Empowering everyone in a team is incredibly important – we don’t live in the world as individuals, we don’t work and or achieve greatness on our own.

I gain immense personal satisfaction and pleasure seeing the amazing work of other women, young and not-so-young and from all types of backgrounds.  I hope in some small part, I can contribute to their professional and perhaps even personal growth, in the role that I have.

How are you achieving this?

Women are half the population! We should be heard, seen and active in every sector and aspect of civil society which, unfortunately we know is still not the case and remains a challenge despite the great progress that has been made at many levels.

I am very proud to lead a team of around 80 people at NCIRS. We are predominately female - but all of the men who work with us are equally fantastic!

Helping support girls and women reach their full potential not only as individuals but as they work to change the type of society we have is a constant source of inspiration for me.

I believe we should all work together to have equity and hear more diverse and female voices across sectors of our life.

What is your advice for other women wanting to further themselves and their career in research & general?

My overarching piece of advice would be to go forth with confidence.  I encourage every person out there to find something that really interests you, something that you are passionate about and to be curious. Get engaged and feel confident to take your footsteps forward in that field.

As a younger person, I remember some comments from others on what my career path should be – I was told that certain things would be better for me as a woman to do, but it really irked me that I had to consider my gender at all!

I don’t feel that my role as a mother (of 3 now flown the nest girls) has hampered my success – taking the time off to have and then working part time to care for my children was a hugely rewarding time in my life -  and equally in my husbands!

There shouldn’t be presumptions about what women may or may not wish to do in their careers and we should feel confident around which direction we want to take ourselves in – don’t feel bad about trying to have it all – nor about ensuring that others in your family can equally pull their weight. 

In keeping with the “Choose to Challenge” theme, what do you think is the most important thing to challenge?

I believe it is important that we challenge the limitations we place on ourselves as women and that we don’t let stereotypes dictate our path or place constraints on what we think we can achieve.

As women we can be taught to doubt ourselves and second guess our choices. I think it is important that we challenge ourselves to be confident that we can do anything we set our mind to.

I have three young adult daughters. It empowers me to have seen them grow up with confidence and the belief that we can all achieve anything we out our minds too. All of us may have barriers that we meet in our lives but this shouldn’t be happening on the basis of our gender (or race, religion, or access to education.. among other things).

What has been the biggest thing that has helped you in your career?

I am (and have been) fortunate to have the support of family, friends, colleagues and mentors throughout my career. I am also thankful of the countless opportunities along the way and the encouragement to take these opportunities which have led me to where I am today.

Access to education and support to learn from a very young age has been fundamental.  As a paediatrician, I believe that access to education is essential and that each child should start with this strong foundation, no matter where they are born.

At NCIRS I work with a fantastic team of many successful women and men who all support me in my role as Director. The support of my colleagues every day and their own work inspires me to do better.

What has been your greatest challenge and how do you inspire other women to choose to challenge?

Over the course of my career I have always wanted to do more than I have had time for! I’ve now learned that life is short and if you don’t stop to enjoy the things you are currently doing or a part of, you won’t gain the most satisfaction out of them.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a great challenge for us all but I look up to the many colleagues and strong leaders who have led us through this. In particular, our chief health officers and senior health officials in Australia and globally - a number of whom of inspiring women -  are showing us each day how to challenge and succeed. 

I have been lucky enough to connect with many others at regional and global levels who are working through challenges in their own environments – especially in countries where COVID-19 has caused the greatest havoc – they also inspire me to do better.

What values do you hope to instill in others about women in the workforce?

The values we aim to instill at NCIRS are that women and men offer equal value as both staff and leaders.  We support flexible working arrangements for both men and women and equal career advancement. I feel great pride in seeing our team support each other to achieve amazing things.

We also strive to hold the SCHN CORE values. These elements - of  collaboration, openness, respect and empowerment - are something we aim to put into practice across our field of national and international research.

Who is role model/inspiration?

I am fortunate to have had a number of women who have had a significant impact on my life, but I take particular inspiration from my own Mum.

She was a nurse who was born in the 1920’s and went on to travel the world in her career, caring for people in the remote communities in NorthWest Territories of Canada to treating patients in a tuberculosis  ward in New Zealand, and teaching trainee nurses in the country town where we lived. I always admired that Mum could care so deeply for people in her job, come home to care for our family, and still have a great sense of fun and laugh at the end of the day.

Read more about some of the other inspiring women across our Network in celebration of International Women’s Day.