Centre student is finalist for prestigious Australasian College Award

09 December 2016

Dr Jin Russell pictured with her award from the RACP
Dr Jin Russell pictured with her award

Dr Jin Russell, a PhD candidate in the University of Auckland Centre for Longitudinal Research – He Ara Ki Mua, received the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (the RACP) 2016 New Zealand Paediatric Trainee Research Award for Excellence at the Paediatric Society of New Zealand Annual Scientific Meeting held in Tauranga 16-18 November. The competition is held annually to select [Australian] State, Territory and New Zealand representatives to present their research at the RACP Congress the following year.

Jin is an Advanced Trainee in general paediatrics and community child health with the RACP. After graduating MBChB from the University of Auckland in 2007 she spent several years working as a paediatric registrar in the Auckland and Bay of Plenty regions. She is currently completing a PhD in paediatrics at the Centre for Longitudinal Research.

For her doctoral research project “Pathways to healthy development in New Zealand preschool children” Jin is investigating early child health and developmental trajectories and how these early life trajectories may be socially stratified. Her research draws on data collected in New Zealand’s contemporary, longitudinal study of child development Growing Up in New Zealand. This multidisciplinary study is tracking the development of nearly 7,000 children born in 2009-10, in the context of their diverse environments, from before birth through to adulthood.

Jin’s award-winning presentation was entitled "Cumulative socioeconomic disadvantage increases the risk of multi-morbidity in early childhood"

“The research I presented showed that the prevalence of children with multiple chronic conditions (multi-morbidity) in early childhood is much more common than previously reported in the literature,” says Jin. “Most previously published studies have suggested that multi-morbidity in children is relatively uncommon, at a prevalence of 2% or so. My research shows that one in ten children in the Growing Up in New Zealand cohort experiences multiple chronic conditions.”  

She found that when mothers reported higher levels of social disadvantage, their children were more likely to experience multiple chronic conditions at age two. In contrast to previously reported studies, she showed that the relationship remained statistically significant at the highest level of disadvantage even after taking other possible explanatory factors into account. 

Jin says that the number of people living with multiple chronic conditions makes this a significant health issue, and challenges the single-disease framework that dominates the literature. “Children with multiple chronic conditions are at increased risk of other poor outcomes such as educational difficulties, disability, family breakdown, and developmental delay,” she adds. 

The regional Trainee Research Award prizes include travel and accommodation expenses and the opportunity to present their research at the RACP Congress in Melbourne in May 2017. Jin says she is grateful to the RACP for supporting physicians-in-training as young emerging researchers.

“This award is a significant achievement and very well deserved,” says Jin’s primary PhD supervisor and Centre Director, Associate Professor Susan Morton. “This is very important research which highlights the significant burden of poor health experienced by children who are exposed to disadvantaged environments from before their birth. This potentially sets them up for a life time of poor outcomes, not only in health but educationally, socially and psychologically. Jin’s research highlights this importance of intervening early to reduce the impact of disadvantage in the first 1000 days of life. We wish her well when she presents her work at the RACP Congress next year.”

Dr Jin Russell is supported by a Health Research Council Clinical Research Training Fellowship.