Alumni Profile: Douglas Noble
Douglas Noble (Clinical Medicine, 1999, Green College) is UNICEF’s Deputy Representative to China. His previous roles include Clinical Advisor to the then-Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson. Here, he details a career that has taken him around the world.
I joined Green College in 1999 for the clinical part of the medical degree. Studying at Oxford gave exposure to some of the world’s finest thinkers and the opportunity to form long lasting connections with other students. After graduation I remained in Oxford for basic surgical training and deepened the link with Green College as a Joan and Richard Doll Clinical Tutorial Fellow.
I’ve always had an interest in leadership and management, and also in the work of charities and non-governmental organizations. During clinical studies and whilst working as a doctor, this interest led me to China and South Africa working with medical teams in remote areas.
In 2006 a remarkable opportunity presented itself to work as a Clinical Adviser to the then-Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Sir Liam Donaldson. This involved being part of the team that supported the CMO on everything from speeches, to media briefings to national reports. It was a privilege to work on three successive Annual Reports of the CMO on the State of Public Health. I realize in hindsight that during this period I also gained a grounding in how to communicate about public health to the general public, an area that would be important later in my career.
The UK Government also had a strong relationship with a unit in WHO in Geneva and I spent a lot of time there working on improving safety and quality of healthcare globally.
Following over two years in the fast-lane on Whitehall, which was both enthralling and physically exhausting, I spent a little time back in clinical practice before embarking on being a public health registrar more formally in London.
I combined working in a public health department in East London, academic research on diabetes risk with Trish Greenhalgh (now in Oxford), as well as contributing to the nuts and bolts of communicable disease control with the Health Protection Agency. I was very pleased to have had the chance to lead a national investigation into an outbreak of a rare type of Salmonella food poisoning, that we eventually traced back to duck eggs. I’ve never eaten an undercooked duck egg since!
In 2012 we moved as a family to New York and I spent a year as a Harkness Fellow both deepening my understanding on other models of healthcare, particularly the US, and carrying out research on one of the many aspects of Obamacare.
It was in New York that I first interacted with UNICEF. At the time they were struggling to recruit a Regional Health Adviser for their eight public health programmes across South Asia. The role based in Kathmandu, Nepal sounded enticing. I provided technical, management, and research support to public health programmes from Kandahar to Colombo, and developed insights into areas ranging from cold chain logistics to neonatal mortality reduction strategies. We also lived through the Nepal earthquake, despite our apartment being rendered uninhabitable. UNICEF has a significant apparatus that kicks in to touch during a major emergency, and our regional health team played a part in that response.
In 2017 I moved to a very different position as UNICEF’s Deputy Representative to China. I oversee a complex programme of cooperation with the Government in almost every province of China in public health, education, child protection and social policy. The combination of strategy and leadership for our technical activities, and diplomatic engagement with China on issues domestically and in their overseas development investments, has been fascinating so far. UNICEF was also one of the first international organizations to respond to the COVID-19 epidemic in China. During 2020 our response pivoted from providing support to China, to procuring supplies from China for the rest of the world.
When we were students at Oxford we often joked about life outside the ring road. I’m still outside the ring road and there is certainly much life to be found. I appreciate very much the ongoing link to the now Green Templeton College, and hope in the future I may have the chance again to contribute more fully to the life of the college.
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