Leadership in Health Equity

In the realm of pioneering healthcare equity for all Australians, few individuals exemplify Louise Maple-Brown’s (1989) dedication and empathy. From her formative years at Ascham to her impactful work with First Nations communities, Louise’s journey is a testament to her unwavering commitment to addressing health disparities and promoting social fairness.

After completing a degree in Medicine at the University of Sydney while residing at Women’s College, Louise embarked on a transformative career path. Her early years at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney provided her with invaluable clinical experience, but it was her move to Darwin in 2002 that marked the beginning of her profound engagement with social justice issues, particularly in First Nations communities.

Fuelled by a passion for research and a desire to make a tangible difference, Louise sought opportunities to address the complex challenges faced by some First Nations people. With the support of a funding grant from the College of Physicians, she delved into research into the causes and complications of type 2 diabetes, collaborating with communities in North-East Arnhem Land.

In her 22 years living and serving in the Northern Territory, Louise has witnessed firsthand the escalating rates of chronic disease, exacerbated by historical injustices and socioeconomic disparities. Determined to effect change, she has immersed herself in research endeavours aimed at understanding and addressing the root causes of health inequities.

Louise’s work has encompassed multifaceted investigations into the complications of diabetes in First Nations communities, ranging from environmental risk factors to intergenerational impacts. The holistic approach of Louise and her team emphasises the significance of structural change to support healthy lifestyle habits and recognises the critical importance of the first 1,000 days of life in shaping long-term health outcomes. Central to Louise’s methodology is her steadfast commitment to genuine partnership with First Nations communities—an ethos instilled in her by her mentors in Darwin. She recognises that true transformation in clinical policy and practice can only be achieved through collaborative, community-centred efforts.

In 2022, Louise organised a groundbreaking NT Diabetes Summit in Alice Springs on the social determinants of health, amplifying the voices of those affected by chronic disease in a bid to drive systemic change. Her dedication stems not only from professional duty but also from a deeply ingrained sense of social justice inherited, she says, from her philanthropic parents. 

Louise was honoured to be recognised by her peers when awarded a Fellowship of the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences in 2021 (only 500 Fellows have received this honour). She was also recently appointed Chair of the Mentorship Committee of the Academy.

Reflecting on her educational foundation at Ascham, Louise acknowledges the significant role it played in shaping her values and skills. The Dalton Plan fostered independence, organisation and self-direction, while courses like Comparative Religion (taught to her by former Headmistress Rowena Danziger) provided cultural insights that proved invaluable for her subsequent travel and work abroad.

For the younger generations, Louise offers sage advice: Be courageous in seizing opportunities, seek mentorship and remain steadfast in the pursuit of social justice. As she continues to mentor others, Louise embodies the spirit of paying it forward, ensuring that future leaders are equipped with the tools and compassion needed to effect meaningful change.

 

Alexandra Wenderoth (Beer 1993)

8 May 2024

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