Dr Petersen started her career at the Medical Research Council of South Arica in 1999 and filled various research position at the same institution until 2013. She started work as a senior scientist at the Human Sciences Research Council in 2014 and is currently a Senior Research Specialist in the Social Aspects of Public Health (SAPH) unit and is involved in a HIV Bio-Behavioral Survey among Trans women (THBBS), a baseline assessment among trans women in three cities in South Africa. She is also the lead investigator in a community and school-based study focusing on the availability, utilization of and perceived need for adolescent specific prevention and treatment services. She has been involved in various service improvement initiatives aimed at improving primary healthcare services and patient adherence to treatment and care. Service improvement initiatives that she has been involved in include coordinating the HealthRise SA initiative, a five-year program that supports the design of community-based projects aimed at expanding access to care for underserved communities living with cardiovascular disease (CVD) and diabetes. She collaborated with selected non-profit organizations to ensure that community-based demonstration projects were implemented and results were monitored.
For this initiative, grantees had to demonstrate that projects increased patient adherence to diabetes care. She was also involved in the Improvement of Maternal and Child Morbidity and Mortality Surveillance (MIMMS) project. This project was aimed at addressing challenges and gaps in surveillance systems, which often served as barriers to access to health care and/or adhering to treatment regimes. Other service improvement initiatives she contributed to include work on a Substance Abuse Treatment Service Quality project, an initiative of the Medical Research Council of South Africa. This initiative draws together health professionals from various substance abuse treatment programmes aimed at improving rehabilitation services, retention in care and after care adherence. She was also involved in the Reference Group to the United Nations on HIV and Injecting Drug Use, which collected and analyzed global data on HIV/AIDS among injecting drug users.
Her PhD involved research and the development of an intervention implemented at Midwife Obstetric Units throughout South Africa; focusing on tobacco cessation, and preventing the use of alcohol and other drugs during pregnancy. She has extensive experience collecting data from, and interacting with, primary health care personnel.