Meet the team – Hazel Penfold
October 7, 2021
Hazel Penfold is the VHA’s Communications and Engagement Manager. Having worked extensively in the public sector in her native New Zealand, and in Victoria, Hazel relishes the opportunity to apply her flair for language and visual communication with a passion for public health.
Where has your career taken you and what brought you to the VHA?
I started my career as a writer and editor in Wellington, New Zealand, after completing a Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics and Anthropology. The market for linguistic anthropologists is pretty small, so my love of words and interest in behavioural psychology led me into communications. It is a career path I ‘fell into’, and I’ve been extremely grateful for the opportunities and guidance provided by mentors that have helped me get where I am today. I have spent most of my career working in the public sector in New Zealand and Victoria, where I developed behaviour change campaigns in diverse fields from workplace health and safety to corruption and public health.
I spent a number of years working in Health Protection Branch at the Department of Health – and this is where my passion for public health communications was ignited. There are so many amazing people at the department who are dedicated to making a difference and it was an honour to work alongside them. It was also extremely rewarding to develop public health campaigns from initial research to implementation – and then see them come to life in the public sphere. Over time, I stepped up into a couple of other roles at the department to gain some different experience… and then COVID hit, and I – like many people – changed tack to support the pandemic response.
While I loved working in the VPS, especially in Health, the opportunity arose to join the VHA in 2021 and I jumped on it. Like so many other crossroads in my career, it felt like a ‘right place, right time’ moment. I get to use my experience and connections from previous roles, and apply them in a way that directly supports the health sector at a critical juncture.
What do you love about your job?
It’s an exciting time to work at the VHA. There is such a huge need to support our health and community health services as they respond to COVID-19 – and there are also opportunities to leverage and integrate different parts of the sector. Clear and timely communications is essential to our response, and I’m happy to play a role in providing that.
The great thing about working in communications and engagement is that you get to work across the organisation and with different stakeholders. That allows me to work on a variety of projects and get to know different parts of the business and the sector.
Working in a smaller team also allows me to work across the spectrum of communications and engagement and be hands on with the work. I still love the basics of writing and editing – language is so important, and every word (and punctuation mark) matters! I get to be creative every day and help my colleagues to make their work shine.
What attracted you to the health sector?
A career in communications allows me to apply my skills and experience to almost any subject matter. However, I have found health communications particularly rewarding because I can make a difference to people’s work and lives. Health literacy has never been so important.
Working alongside health specialists means I get to translate complex concepts into plain language and visuals that make a positive impact. I take great pride in getting to know the subject matter I’m working with, so that I can make the language or concept more accessible without diluting technical meaning. There is so much to learn about the health sector, and I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to work with some incredibly smart and talented leaders in this space. I try to absorb as much as I can along the way, and add value to their work wherever I can.