#IWD2020: Dr. Zoe's Career Journey

11 March 2020 . Australia

To celebrate International Women’s Day we’re sharing career stories and advice from women in various roles across Bupa. Here we speak to Dr Zoe Wainer, Head of Public Health & Medical Director for Bupa Australia and New Zealand.

International Women's Day - Zoe

Can you tell us about your career journey?

I completed medicine and pretty quickly knew that I wanted to be a surgeon. I found cardiothoracics the most fascinating so I pursued cardiothoracic surgery, and focused very much on thoracic surgical oncology and undertook a PhD in sex differences in outcomes for people with lung cancer.

In parallel I have always been involved with the Australian Medical Association (AMA), and around about the time I was doing my PhD I was also a Vice President of AMA Victoria. The medico-politics and health system thinking really drew me, as well as the opportunity to support important public health initiatives.

I eventually left surgery to take up the role of Deputy Director of Medical Services at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Here I was selected as a younger fellow to attend the World Cancer Leaders Summit in Cape Town RSA. Whilst there I heard Stuart Fletcher, then Global CEO of Bupa speak, and was so impressed with the vision of the company.  It also dawned on me that as a stakeholder in the health system, health insurers were very well incentivised to invest in prevention initiatives and ensuring high quality care, keeping customers well and healthy. I later moved to Sydney and joined Bupa as the Clinical Operations Lead for Bupa Medical Visa Services (BMVS).

After a period with BMVS I then moved across to health insurance as Head of Public Health.
During this time an opportunity arose in Canberra for me to undertake a secondment to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in Indigenous Affairs. On returning to Bupa I joined a new team, Health Partnerships and Innovation, which has a very strong mental health focus, as well as stakeholder management and health system reform which I find to be very rewarding work.

How have you balanced your personal life with your career?

I have a genuine love and passion for my work so for me it is not so much about balancing personal life and career, but more about self-reflection and understanding how to be the healthiest and most balanced me.

My work can be quite consuming at times which is OK as long as I keep a reflection on my health, energy and wellbeing. It’s important to recognise when I am over exerting myself so I can re-balance.  I am very grateful to have a partner who knows I am happiest when I am busy and working at pace, he is extremely supportive. (Note I said grateful not lucky – I chose well!)

Why do you think it’s important to have diversity at all levels?

In some ways I struggle with this question as it is so obvious and yet it still gets debated. Diversity in people brings diversity of thought, of life experience, of approaching problems differently. The evidence is clear that diversity is economically powerful as well. But having diverse experiences, backgrounds and views challenges our own thinking and allows us to learn and grow, and when led well creates great synergy of minds.

What advice would you give other women aiming to progress into senior roles?

Have lots of mentors for different areas of life and at different times, depending on the challenge or situation. The different views of different mentors strengthen and broaden your thinking and creativity.

I often reflect on areas professionally and personally where I could develop further, and then look for someone who is a leader in that area. Understand your personal values and what really matters to you and always keep that in your focus, and then surround yourself with great people at work who support that. 

And step up and speak up, sometimes we can be hesitant to throw our hat in the ring for a big role, this is self-limiting.