16 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Kerry Chant has become as familiar to NSW residents as that of Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
Chant can be seen flanking the Premier’s side at the daily 11am press conferences, and in charge of explaining the finer details of NSW’s latest COVID-19 cases.
She’s even the face of a new television ad urging NSW residents to stay home.
But if you’d never heard of the NSW Chief Health Officer (CHO) before the pandemic hit, here’s a bit more about her.
She’s had the job for more than a decade
Chant is a public health physician and has served as the state’s CHO since 2008 – that’s about 13 years in the job.
She starts the day with an early meeting with Berejiklian at NSW Health's St Leonards headquarters, which is typically followed by an emergency cabinet meeting and then more briefings, according to The Guardian.
Before taking up the mantle of CHO, she was the director of the Public Health Unit of Sydney South West Area Health Service between 1995 and 2005.
Chant then moved into a position as deputy CHO and the director of health protection from 2005 to 2008.
The CHO is incredibly well educated, and has four degrees under her belt. This includes a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery, which she completed in 1987, as well as Masters in Health Administration and Public Health which she gained in 1991 and 1995 respectively.
She grew up in Punchbowl
Chant’s childhood home was in Punchbowl in Sydney’s south west. She attended school at Danebank Anglican School for Girls in Hurstville.
Before studying medicine, she worked various jobs in retail and in a pharmacy, and attributes her interest in medicine to this.
“I did do a year of pharmacy before I transferred to medicine. I’ve always been drawn to health and sciences,” she told The Australian.
“I loved the challenge of working in the pharmacy, I think it actually helped me a lot when I did medicine.”
She recently invoked her background growing up in Punchbowl in a recent press conference, and said her “heart goes out” to western and south-western Sydney.
She was threatened in 2013
Being in the public eye has a price. In 2013, Chant was accosted and threatened in Lismore after providing a submission to the council on the benefits of fluoride.
The council had just voted to reverse a ban on fluoride in water. But in the car park after the vote, an anti-fluoride protester told Chant: "We know your face, I have friends in Syria, do you know of Sarin gas?”
The scene was witnessed by Lismore paediatrician Dr Chris Ingall, who said Chant handled it “professionally, calmly and expertly”, according to the Daily Telegraph.
“We walked away and that's when she started screaming abuse at us,” he said.
She’ll battle broken glasses and appear on TikTok to get her message across
Chant has been described as relentlessly focused on the job, realistic, and matter-of-fact. In press conferences, the CHO is laser-focused on delivering the facts, figures, and health advice and information the public needs to know.
In fact, even though she needed to don a pair of one-armed glasses in a press conference on 11 July that sat crooked on her face, she just soldiered on.
“It's a very serious matter, so please don’t be distracted by [my broken glasses],” she told the media at the time, before reading out a long list of new infection sites.
Chant has also demonstrated she wants all Australians to receive health advice, and in late July appeared in a live Q&A session on TikTok.
“The best thing we can do is minimise our contact with anyone else,” she told Aussie TikToker and astrophysicist Kirsten Banks.
— Beth Shaw (@disneybeth_) July 11, 2021
She’s married with three adult children
Chant has a family, and has three post-teen children with her husband, but keeps them out of the public eye.
But in a press conference last week, Chant hinted at how demanding her job was when urging the public to consider getting the AstraZeneca vaccine.
"I have had AstraZeneca. My husband – who I do care for dearly but has not seen much of me – had his first dose of AstraZeneca,” Chant said.
Her mother-in-law, her husband’s mother, has also taken the AstraZeneca vaccine, she added.
“The Chief Health Officer would not recommend AstraZeneca to someone that they care about if they had concerns,” she said.
She’s NSW’s 2021 Woman of the Year
Chant’s hard work throughout the pandemic’s response hasn’t gone unnoticed. In early March this year, the CHO was awarded the NSW Premier’s Woman of the Year for 2021.
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Chant has been a familiar face, offering vital health information for our state in addition to years of service to the health sector,” Berejiklian said.
“Dr Chant is a role model, especially for women, and has absolutely excelled in her chosen field to affect lasting change.”
— NSW Health (@NSWHealth) March 9, 2021
In addition to being named Woman of the Year, Chant also won the NSW Premier’s Woman of Excellence Award.
These aren’t the accolades Chant has amassed; Chant received the UNSW 2020 Chancellor’s Award for Exceptional Alumni Achievement.
Thank you @UNSW. It was a great honour to receive the ‘2020 Chancellor’s Award for Exceptional Alumni Achievement’ yesterday. The passion and enthusiasm of new university graduates is inspiring. https://t.co/AbGtpNnvH4
— New South Wales Chief Health Officer (@NSWCHO) April 28, 2021
And in 2015, well before the pandemic hit, Chant was awarded a Public Service Medal for “outstanding public service to population health in New South Wales”.
She likes to garden in her spare time
Chant’s favourite flower is the orchid.
“I just think they’re such a beautiful plant. I love their diversity, I love the colours, and the intricacies of the veins in the petals,” she told The Australian.
“I just find nature particularly amazing. I love looking after my plants and the greenery. I’ve always loved the natural environment.”