How did you get into health services research and what drew you to it?
My job as a marketing executive in a pharmaceutical organization in Ghana (Kojach Pharma Ltd) meant I needed to visit health facilities and introduce pharmaceutical products to prescribers and health personnel in several parts of Ghana. It also meant I had to supervise my medical representatives to do presentations in leading health facilities on the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of our products in order to convince prescribers to write or prescribe our products instead of that of our competitors. This experience laid the foundation for my interest in health services research as I came face to face with a kaleidoscope of issues regarding access to health services in health facilities and the management of health in general in Ghana. Consequently, I took interest in health services even though my first degree was in marketing. After working for a while, I enrolled in a master of philosophy program in health services management at the University of Ghana.
What was the first project you worked on and where?
My first project was my master’s degree thesis which was conducted at the University of Ghana’s Department of Public Administration and Health Services Management. The study was conducted in the Ga West Municipality of Ghana and was on the impact of Ghana’s health decentralization policy on access to health services.
What are some of the key projects you are currently working on?
At the moment, I am working on my PhD thesis which focuses on the management of hypertension and diabetes in Ghana. I am also engaged in a project on socio-cultural issues affecting maternal health outcomes in rural Ghana with a colleague at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada.
What have been your career highlight so far and why?
After my master’s program, I was taken on as a research assistant at the Department of Public Administration and Health Services Management where I assisted in teaching and research work. My hard work was rewarded when I was appointed as Assistant Lecturer and a deputy coordinator of the newly created Climate Change and Sustainable Development Unit at the department. This was a pivotal moment for me because ordinarily, a PhD holder would have been appointed but I was rewarded because of my selflessness and hard work for the department after my master’s program.
Can you tell us more about your PhD research?
The epidemiologic transition which took place decades ago in high income countries is now sweeping across many a lower-and middle-income country (LMICs). There is rapid urbanization, and the effects of globalization on emerging economies cannot be gainsaid. A change in eating habits (with the advent of KFC, McDonalds etc. ) coupled with low physical activity as people now drive instead of walking for even shorter distances, means that the incidence of cardio-metabolic risk factors is on the increase. The result is a rise in the incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs. In most African countries, research focus has been on infectious diseases particularly on HIV/AIDS, malaria and the diarrheal diseases to the neglect of NCDs though these conditions currently constitute an important component of the disease burden in Africa.
In Ghana, evidence shows that the leading NCDs include hypertension and diabetes mellitus but very little is known about how these conditions are being managed and how stakeholders are responding to a challenge known to have reached epidemic proportions by researchers. Consequently, in my thesis, I set out to understand the management of hypertension and diabetes in Ghana and to know the extent of response effort. Specifically, I am looking at how policies are designed and implemented for the management of these diseases as research evidence show that the way policies are made and implemented is crucial to managing NCDSs. I am also looking at the underpinning evidence for policies and strategies for managing these conditions as well as the specific response activities from various stakeholders to the challenge of hypertension and diabetes. In the end, my target is to be able to provide some useful lessons that will positively influence policy and practice as far as the management of diabetes and hypertension is concerned in Ghana and other LMICs.
Who has had the biggest influence over your career to date?
My senior brother, Peter Owusu Frimpong, has been a great influence. After losing my father at a young age, he has been a trusted guide in my education and career. While studying at high school, he had already completed a degree in sociology and spoke so highly of University education that I was deeply encouraged. He has provided guidance on key career decisions I have had to make and gives advice on key issues while I am on the job.
What’s next for you in your career?
My goal is to work for an organization where I can take on new health services challenges. Ultimately, I would like to build a long-term health services career in an institution where I can assume more research responsibilities and get involved in health policy and implementation programs/projects at the highest level.
What is your motivation for becoming involved with the HRAANZ? What services would you find most useful?
I am an early career researcher and need all the knowledge and experience I can get to be able to keep myself abreast of current trends and issues in health services research. It is, therefore, necessary to join a body made up of experts in HSR in order to learn, share experiences and make new friends. A body made up of health service researchers in Australia and New Zealand is just what I need to be able to understand key issues in health services and get myself well-grounded in health services knowledge and research.
On which services I would find most useful, I have to say I have already started reaping the benefits of some of the services of the HRAANZ. The 10th HRAANZ conference in Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast, opened the way for me to meet many health service researchers most of which I am in contact with, having exchanged business cards. What is most likely is a research project between myself and a few colleagues as discussions are still ongoing. The conference also paved the way for me to submit an article in a special issue of the Journal of Health Management and Organization which will hopefully be published. I have also started attending HSR webinars of the HRAANZ which is broadening my horizons as far as HSR is concerned. There is no doubt that the conferences and webinars are important services that I will keep taking part in.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for early career researchers seeking to build a HSR career?
I believe the ability to secure funding for research is a major challenge for early career health service researchers. In general, funding for research is limited and more especially in low income countries. For early career researchers, it becomes even more difficult because funders want experienced researchers with proven track record to execute projects. This limits opportunities for early career researchers who are still learning the rudiments of HSR. The way forward, I believe, is for early career researchers to align with experienced and seasoned researchers and learn from them on key research and projects issues. This will make them better equipped for health service opportunities. This is where associations such as the HRAANZ become very important as it enables early career researchers to meet seasoned researchers and professionals with hands-on experience, interact with them and pick important lessons and training from them.
What do you get up to when you are not conducting research?
At the moment, I spend my spare time on a training program with the University of Canterbury Career Hub team which is a coaching and mentoring program on extracurricular activities. The program is meant to equip students with hands-on experience and skills ranging from answering interview questions to engaging in volunteer work.