PhD graduate smiles at the camera while wearing her cap and gown.
Dr Ellie Whittaker has been working in public health throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

An Edge Hill PhD graduate has been praised for her exceptional work in public health during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Dr Ellie Whittaker, who graduated on Saturday, has worked as a Health Improvement Officer for North Yorkshire County Council’s Public Health Team throughout the pandemic; she also helped shape Government policy in response to the outbreak through her work with the British Psychological Society (BPS) while completing her PhD in Psychology. 

Ellie’s job, which started in September 2019, initially focused on cardiovascular disease, primary care and research, but as the pandemic took hold she moved increasingly into the Covid-19 response. 

“It was a baptism of fire,” she said. “I’d never even worked in public health or the adult social care sector so I had to learn really quickly and help manage some really challenging situations when the care sector was massively impacted by Covid outbreaks.

“We never knew what we were going into on a day-to-day basis, and it was a massive learning curve.” 

Ellie faced these challenges while grieving the loss of her dad Phil Whittaker, who died of a sudden cardiac arrest aged 70 in January 2020, on the same day that the first case of Covid-19 was recorded in the UK. 

Throughout the pandemic, Ellie has been working predominantly in helping to manage outbreaks in adult social care settings, such as care homes, as well as across workplaces, education settings and “anywhere else where our public health advice was needed”. 

“It was a pretty horrific situation at times, particularly as I was one of the youngest and least experienced, but I was lucky to be working with a really incredible team, we supported each other through it.

“It has been an absolute privilege to be a part of this response, but it’s safe to say it wasn’t what I thought I was signing up to when I first joined the team.” 

The 27-year-old from York currently specialises in health protection, helping to manage outbreaks of Covid-19 on a daily basis. 

“It’s been a really hard start but it’s such a rewarding job, I absolutely love it and it was definitely the right career move for me.” 

Dr Linda Kaye, Reader in Psychology, commended Ellie for “thriving under enormous pressure” and described her as a “credit to herself and Edge Hill”; she praised the hard work she put into her PhD, which was conducted in conjunction with Knowsley’s cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation services, based at Liverpool Heart and Chest NHS Foundation Trust. 

Dr Kaye also highlighted Ellie’s work with the British Psychological Society (BPS), of which Linda is a member, specifically in relation to the Division of Health Psychology’s behavioural science and disease prevention taskforce. 

Through her work with the BPS, Ellie produced guidance on a number of topics including encouraging hand hygiene behaviour in the community, optimising uptake of Covid-19 vaccination and optimising physical distancing.

“I created a peer support network of public health professionals and academics across the UK to share best practice and generally try and get each other through what has been an extremely challenging couple of years. The group’s still going and the support I’ve had from everyone who’s been part of it has been invaluable.

“We used behavioural science to influence policy; we aimed to bridge the gap between academia and practice, and tried to use our health psychology experience in a way that was accessible to organisations who were trying to tackle Covid-19.” 

Edge Hill University is home to a thriving and dynamic research culture and offers a range of full-time and part-time research degrees.