Emre Celik

Cathryn Cox

Master of Management (Public Sector Management), 1993

Executive Director, Health System Planning and Investment, NSW Ministry of Health

In a public service career spanning 25 years, UTS graduate Cathryn Cox has much to be proud of – so much so that it’s difficult for her to pick a highlight.

After gaining experience at the coal face of the health sector as a clinician, Cox undertook a Master of Management (Public Sector Management) at UTS, where she gained perspective on the vastness the public health system. It was during her studies that her then head of department supported her secondment to the NSW Department of Health. It was a move that, according to Cox, “completely changed” her career direction.

“The great thing about a career in health is working in a field that people value and which impacts people’s lives and their families. You can make a difference no matter where you work in the system.”

She has since overseen the delivery of 17 integrated cancer services across the state and also the planning and execution of the NSW Government's 78 new capital commitments. Of particular note has been her implementation of the abolishment of the patient co-payment for chemotherapy and highly specialised drug medicines, an initiative that has significantly eased the financial burden for patients undergoing treatments for cancer and other chronic illnesses.

In her current role as Executive Director, Health System Planning and Investment, at the NSW Ministry of Health, she is responsible for the management of capital investment valued at over $1.7 billion per annum. It’s a hefty responsibility, but one that Cox sees is ripe with opportunity to transform the way health care is provided.

Her achievements have also seen Cox awarded a prestigious Public Service Medal in the 2018 Australia Day Honours for her outstanding public service to health systems planning in New South Wales. She has been lauded for making a positive and significant contribution to the New South Wales community and is seen as a role model and expert for statewide clinical service and capital planning.

“For me leadership is about relationships and helping other people succeed. Be true to your values, work hard and work with integrity.”

Cox recently shared her thoughts on leadership and the challenges faced by the NSW health system.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in health system planning? What is it about your work that inspires you and motivates you to continue?

I was always interested in health and started my career as a physiotherapist. The skills I learnt as a clinician fit very well with service planning. The great thing about a career in health is working in a field that people value and which impacts people’s lives and their families. Something new or interesting happens every day, and you can make a difference no matter where you work in the system.

What are some of the biggest challenges currently facing the state’s health system?

The NSW health system faces similar challenges to all health systems across the world. We have a growing and ageing population and people are living longer with complex and chronic medical conditions. There are so many ways to transform how we provide care and listen to how patients, families and clinicians see health care into the future. New technologies offer really exciting ways to do things differently, and I am interested to see how digital technologies will continue to change how we provide and receive health care.

What has been your proudest career achievement so far?

I’m lucky that I can be proud of so many things that I have been part of during my career that it’s actually hard to pick one. As a clinician, treating people after they’d had a stroke and seeing them get back to their daily lives was always a real privilege. More recently, I’m proud of delivering on a government commitment which meant that people with certain types of highly specialised medications or chemotherapy did not have to co-pay their treatment. As someone whose husband died of cancer, it is incredibly rewarding to know that what I do can make that burden a little lighter.

I am also very proud to contribute to the planning and delivery of so much investment in hospitals and other health facilities across the state.

What leadership qualities do you aspire to as a role model and senior leader at NSW Health?

Something that I have learned is that there are different styles for different people in different fields. What I can recommend is that you learn from the people around you – see what they do that works, see what they do that doesn’t. Tailor your style to your work place rather than trying to find some perfect formula.

For me it’s about relationships and helping other people succeed. Be true to your values, work hard and work with integrity. My final message would be to not sweat the small stuff, thank people and have fun.

What knowledge and skills from your time at UTS have stuck with you and helped you during your career?

Studying at UTS made me realise that I was part of a much bigger health system and that there were lots of different ways that you could make a contribution. It helped me understand and develop an interest in government and how it worked. While I was studying, my then head of department supported my secondment to the NSW Department of Health. It completely changed my career direction and I have been very grateful ever since for the support of that person.

What advice would you give new graduates who are about to embark in a career in public sector management?

The public sector is dynamic and innovative, and supports people to develop their professional capacity. Embrace those opportunities and if you can, find a manager or mentor who will support and encourage you along the way.