Case study /
Exploring the world

Jillann: multilateralism

United Nations

Jillann Farmer was fascinated by the UN from a very early age. Reading comic books, she was most interested in Diana, the Phantom’s wife who worked at the UN and loved seeing pictures of kids in their national dress at school on UN day. Now Jillann is the Director of Medical Services based at the UN headquarters in New York. 

Jillann went from a carefree childhood in Rockhampton, to being the ‘classic country kid’ in medical school in Brisbane. While there Jillann was elected president of the student union and says that ‘taking a year off to play student politician was probably one of the most valuable years of my life’. Inspired by this experience, Jillann worked for the Medical Board of Queensland, Medicare Australia and Queensland Health, while continuing to work in general practice and emergency departments in rural and metropolitan areas. ‘This provided a really good grounding for where I find myself now. Australia really understands practising medicine in difficult environments’, she says. 

In 2012, Jillann applied for her current role at the UN, and to her surprise, and her husband’s, she was successful ‘and we were moving to New York!’ The area she oversees provides the medical services for staff members in the UN system in different locations around the world. ‘We keep the UN workforce as healthy and safe as possible, while they carry out challenging jobs, in sometimes very difficult environments’, Jillann says.

I wake up every morning with the certainty that at least one thing I do each day is going to make a difference…

Dr Jillann Farmer headshot

Dr Jillann Farmer. Image credit: United Nations

She travels often, including to global hotspots to assess medical needs. ‘I see the heartbreak. I’ve seen crowds carrying the body of a child down the streets of Sana’a in Yemen. I’ve seen destruction and devastation in Mogadishu. To see that first hand creates a profound motivation to support the people in the UN who can fix that. I can’t fix it myself, but every single person I can help might help 10,000 people.’ 

Jillann is proud of steering through the first ever UN Occupational Safety and Health framework and developing a mental health strategy for the UN. In this work, she has recently interacted with staff from Australia’s Permanent Mission to the UN and says ‘they’ve been amazingly supportive of some of the reform agenda I’m driving. I really feel this wind beneath my wings and a big part of it is coming from Australia, which is fantastic’.

Jillann Farmer talking outside with several males in medical scrubs or in uniform with blue UN berets

Jillann with community healthcare workers and UN staff at an Ebola community care centre in Liberia. Image credit: United Nations

Jillann believes that every country in the world benefits from the work of the UN. ‘If the UN can succeed in its mandate of fostering peace and stability, then that’s good for everybody’, she says. ‘Through its development agenda, the UN is helping to build future economic partners for Australia and that creates a future where Australia has regional partners who can help us create a better regional future.’ 

She sees rewards for herself too. ‘I get an amazing chance to see the whole world through very different eyes. I wake up every morning with the certainty that at least one thing I do each day is going to make a difference and I come home every day with that wonderful satisfied feeling that it’s worthwhile. I’m so lucky.’