Introducing Associate Professor Lara Bishop

Lara Bishop can quote essential data on urgent aeromedical patient retrievals from rural and remote environments with extraordinary dexterity. She has one of those brains that can make quick connections, find networks and implement novel solutions, within moments.

Before joining the Australian Stroke Alliance as our chief operating officer, Lara spent six years with the Royal Flying Doctor Service as the Director of research and policy. She understands how effective aeromedical retrieval can be. And she is passionate about the need for improve stroke response times, especially for rural and remote Australians who are disproportionately disadvantaged due to the “tyranny of distance.” As she negotiates with myriad Stroke Alliance partners, her knowledge of urgent prehospital care, from the RFDS, is proving to be invaluable.

When she’s not crunching budgets, building alliances and contributing to our strategy, Lara will be found running on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River in Canberra. And we mean running.

Lara, we’ve thrown a few complex situations at you since your arrival. And we’ve watched as you’ve built warm rapport with partners while always playing with a straight bat. What’s your secret?

I don’t think there’s a secret. I treat each of our partners with respect and have come to appreciate their unique skills, contributions and passion for the project. I am cognisant that the Stroke Alliance is the custodian of a significant amount of public money, and has a mandate to deliver a complex project in a relatively short time frame. My job is to ensure the project is delivered to a high standard, and I will continue to work closely with our partners to ensure each delivers their respective components of the project in a timely manner. My goal is to foster open and honest communication between all of the project participants and to facilitate proactive solutions to any issues that arise.

Working with medical researchers and health practitioners provides its own special challenges. Any insights into this unique world?

I think it is fair to say that most researchers and health practitioners are managing multiple roles and are time poor. I’ve had to learn to “talk the talk” and rapidly skill myself in “stroke lingo” in order to communicate with our stoke colleagues. Concise discussions and brevity seem to be the keys to success.

You seem to thrive on the challenges of constant change, from within and from external sources.  Give us an example of a time in your life when some good came from change.

Change is inevitable, and though it sometimes brings uncertainty, I welcome it with open arms. The key is to view change positively. It’s a great opportunity to learn new skills, meet new people, and to try new things. For me, the biggest change came when I moved from Brisbane to Canberra in 2002 to conduct research for my PhD in mental health literacy. With a young family, and a base degree in wildlife ecology, I forged a new career in the health field and have never looked back. My personal experience with postnatal depression, and subsequently writing a book on the topic in 1999 inspired me to radically change my life and contribute to improved health outcomes for people who experience health challenges.

As Socrates said “the secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

Being involved with the Stroke Alliance from the get-go means you have a real chance to influence the delivery of this massive project. What most excites you?

Every part of the Stroke Alliance project is exciting and each plays an important role in the success of the project. There’s such great potential to improve the lives of people who experience a stroke through the adoption of new, novel, lightweight technologies and their integration into road and air ambulances. The three platforms that underpin the stroke alliance – telestroke, education and evaluation – are essential to its success. I’m excited to see how the project will improve stroke outcomes for rural and remote Australians, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who are disproportionately impacted by stroke and have significantly poorer access to treatment than their counterparts in major cities.

Why have you chosen to embed your career in the not for profit health sector?

I wanted to meaningfully contribute to improving health outcomes for people experiencing health challenges, and the not for profit health sector is the perfect vehicle to achieve this. I’ve had the opportunity to work on many different health projects. Some of these include

  • Improving outcomes for women with perinatal depression and anxiety;
  • Promoting family wellbeing and child development through the implementation of a sustained nurse home visiting program;
  • Improving health outcomes for rural and remote Australians, including mental health, dental health, hearing, palliative care, aeromedical retrievals, primary healthcare and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health; and
  • Supporting the mental health of high risk workers in hard to reach industries.

Please share some stats on your running. Few people would be aware of your secret powers. How does running help you cope with life’s challenges?

I’ll be honest…running is an obsessions for me. It makes me feel great and is highly addictive. I won my first cross country when I was nine years old and from then on, I was hooked. Running helps me live in the moment and appreciate the “here and now.” I always run with my faithful kelpie, Maggie, and watching her love of life and her ability to live in the moment inspires me. She finds wonder in a rain drop or a stick, and this reminds me to literally stop and smell the roses – every day!

I enjoy participating in Parkruns, which are free, weekly, community running events located all around the world. I hold the age category record for my local 5km parkrun and can boast a faster running time than my adult children and husband, and the most first place finishes. Sometimes you have to hold on to small wins!

Finally, which movie has changed your life?

I love ABBA, so Mamma Mia is the movie that changed my life. Many in my family may not agree that it was for the better though! The movie inspired me to start a family and friend karaoke competition. A group of us meet regularly to sing (mostly out of tune). Each competition has a different theme, and I’ll admit that I have performed songs from a number of artists including Dolly Parton, ABBA, Disney, Men at Work and many more. Of course, for each competition all participants dress up. Enough said!