Dr Nicki Jackson

Dr Nicki Jackson is the executive director of Alcohol Healthwatch.

“My role is to inform strong action on alcohol in our country, through looking at what evidence will work to reduce harm. I love being able to have a voice for those who are affected by alcohol. Every day is different and there’s a huge workload because we’ve got a real problem with alcohol in this country.

The best thing about my role is that I get to wear so many different hats. It’s such a challenge to instill a public health perspective when I’m working with the police, local government, community groups, the education sector or psychologists. It’s a huge privilege to do this job.

I trained as a nutritionist at Otago University in the 1990s, then I did a Masters in Health Science. Since then my career has been immersed in evidence. I spent three years training public health practitioners and policymakers on how to integrate evidence into practice. Then I did three years at AUT, leading the health promotion degree, followed by three years managing the alcohol and tobacco services at Auckland Regional Public Health. That’s where I fell in love with alcohol, so to speak. It was incredible to be in a job where I could work with policy makers, communities and health services, and get to try to change the environment for the next generation. 

After three years in that role I left to do my PhD in adolescent drinking. Nine months into it I had twins. I was told by many people that I wouldn’t come back, but I not only did that but I submitted on time and won best PhD thesis. Don’t listen to people when they say ‘you won’t be back’ after having a baby! That PhD for me, was a different level of study or knowledge. There hasn’t been a single day in which I haven’t used it in my current role.

Public health is about values. There’s one piece of advice I think every health promotion public health student or emerging practitioner should know and that’s to know what your purpose is. Once you’ve worked out what your purpose is, write it down, spend some quality time thinking about it. My purpose, for example, is ‘to turn acorns into great oak trees’. That purpose guides every decision I make in my life. I will only seek opportunities where I’ve got ability to build capacity, so others can carry on with the work after I’ve gone. 

Knowing what your purpose is makes every decision that much clearer. Once you can find jobs that are aligned with your values, life becomes very rewarding. I think it also helps with relationships – people see you for being genuine and knowing your values and where you come from. The skills you need in public health; to be able to work with communities, be able to look at evidence, they can be gained on the job. Knowing your values and your purpose will last you a lifetime.”