PEOPLE: Dr Kudzai’s ever-evolving career in infectious diseases

Amid the coronavirus pandemic and extensive discussions around the impact on the global healthcare industry, Echo Chamber Escape reached out to Dr Kudzai Kanhutu, an infectious diseases physician, telehealth Clinical lead and Deputy Medical Information Officer at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

In this interview, Dr Kudzai shares her career journey, how her passion for the field has evolved over time and why “the world needs you” if you’re considering a career in infectious diseases.

  • What first instigated your interest in infectious diseases? How has you interest and passion for the field evolved since then?

I have always been motivated by the ability of good healthcare systems to restore equity. Infectious diseases lends itself really well to achieving meaningful social justice goals. From vaccination through to providing fresh water and basic sanitation to populations. Everything we do in infectious diseases is ultimately community and population minded as opposed to being narrowly focussed on the “patient” or “consumer”.

At first I thought I would end up treating weird and wonderful infections on some tropical outpost. Not so much in practice! Which is not to say there isn’t buckets to do. From managing post surgical infections, dealing with a gastro outbreak in a nursing home or refugee health immunisations. My passion and interest in infectious diseases has really only expanded to become even more esoteric.

  • What excites you most about the infectious disease and biotechnology sectors? What do others entering the industry have to look forward to? 

Infectious diseases is an incredibly holistic field that encompasses the full spectrum of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics). I am insatiably curious about how things work and infectious diseases allows you to indulge that spirit of adventure.

Working at the intersection of biotech and infectious diseases you are always at the frontier of innovation and some truly extraordinary discoveries. The way that we are using big data and digital platforms to strengthen our approach to the pandemic is extraordinary. From identifying the virus, developing rapid test kits, tracking disease spread and vaccine developments.

  • “COVID-19 has heightened people’s awareness of the importance of the involvement of doctors, medical professionals, and biotechnology experts in impacting and contributing to public policy.” – Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not? What are your reflections on this topic? 

I agree to an extent. The general public have always been very open to doctors being involved in public policy decisions. We often rank as the most trusted profession, with politicians as we know ranking very poorly!  However, from within the medical fraternity we often have an ambivalent relationship with politics and advocacy. There has been a tendency in the past to focus on our neutrality and the patient facing aspects of care rather than the broader socioeconomic context. I think the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for us to be more deeply ensconced in directing the narrative and decisions around resource utilisation and healthcare planning.

  • For people currently undertaking short courses or tertiary studies in infectious diseases, what is your advice to ensuring a rewarding and successful career in this sector?

Be very open to using your skills flexibly. Over the years I have done locums in the private sector, worked in call centres and sexual health clinics. Don’t allow your course to narrow your possibilities. Always be purposeful about broadening your horizons. The world needs you! 


About the expert

Dr Kudzai Kanhutu MBBS (Hons); BA/BSc; MPH; FRACP is an infectious diseases physician, telehealth Clinical lead and Deputy Medical Information Officer at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. A self-confessed health tech nerd she is a current board member for the Health Informatics Society Australia and clinical reference lead for the Australian Digital Health Agency.

Her desire to apply technical solutions to health problems arose from her professional and personal experiences of health inequality in her birth country Zimbabwe and working in rural and regional Australia.

In 2017 she was jointly awarded the Victorian Public Healthcare award for excellence in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse care in 2017. This award acknowledged clinical innovation through the development and implementation of a purpose-built electronic health record as well as a telehealth model of care for remote management of refugee patients.

Kudzai’s current research undertakings are in the areas of virtual care, digital literacy and the impact of housing stress on refugee health outcomes.

Outside of work Kudzai enjoys a number of eclectic pursuits. As the reigning Kensington Primary School parents’ dance off champion, she is equally comfortable in the forward pocket doing goal kicking practice with her kids as she is fronting an academic conference keynote.