Sarah Perkes

Sarah Perkes

What are your research interests?

  • Health equity: developing health resources and interventions with communities to increase opportunity for good health.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health: working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to design, implement and examine rigorous community health research.
  • Occupational Science: using the power of occupation, inclusion and participation to improve health outcomes.

Why did you get into research?

Before starting a PhD I worked clinically as an Occupational Therapist, including three years in remote parts of the Northern Territory. I was privileged to experience the diversity and beauty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, but also witnessed the startling health inequities. These experiences got me interested in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research to understand how we could be doing things better.

What would be the ultimate goal for your research?

To contribute to closing the health gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous Australians.  Particularly interested in using co-design methods with families and health services to improve access and utilisation of health services, to ultimately work towards equal opportunity for good health and wellbeing.


Sarah is an Occupational Therapist and has recently completed a Masters in Public Health (MPH) in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.  In addition to completing her Masters, Sarah also applied to undertake a PhD in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. Prior to starting this PhD Sarah had gained six years’ experience working as a community Occupational Therapist.

Sarah commenced her PhD in June 2017 in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander maternal and child health, with a focus on smoking cessation and respiratory health. Her PhD includes five linked studies, including co-designing and testing a mobile health intervention with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and health services. Sarah’s research has potential to have wide reaching impact on the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, and their families.

Sarah has successfully applied for two innovation programs, two research grants and a scholarship during her candidature. She and team members completed the ON Prime program powered by CSIRO in June 2018. Sarah led the Mid North Coast Local Health District Innovation Challenge in August 2018, which the team won. In May 2019 Sarah was lead Investigator for a NSW Health, Agency for Clinical Innovation Grant ($29,959.43). In June 2019 Sarah was awarded the prestigious NSW Clinical Excellence Commission’s Ian O’Rourke Scholarship in Patient Safety ($9,594), which funded a two week research visit to the National Institute for Health Innovation in Auckland, New Zealand. In November 2019 she was a recipient of the Greaves Family Postgraduate Scholarship ($12,500). 

Sarah continues to work as an Occupational Therapist, and in research and teaching while completing her PhD.

Future Focus

My future focus is on enabling better access and utlisation of quality health care for all Australians, by working with community and health services. 

Specialised/Technical Skills

  • Occupational therapist and Science
  • Public Health and Health prevention
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health
  • Co-design


  • HCRA
  • Public Health Association of Australia


ABC Newcastle interview with Kia Handley - 17 December 2019