Wahine Māori medical school dean a historic first for Otago University

By Will Trafford

A Wahine Māori has been appointed Dean of Otago University’s medical school, in what the university has heralded as a ‘historic day’ for Wahine Māori leadership within the institution.

Professor Suzanne Pitama (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Whare) is taking on the role of Dean and Head of Campus at the University of Otago, Christchurch.

Pitama was the former Director of the Māori Indigenous Health Institute (MIHI), and an Associate Dean Māori at the University. Pitama says the new role is an opportunity to help address health inequities and obligations under Te Tiriti.

‘I’m feeling excited about the opportunities we have to move forward on some really key initiatives, which includes the implementation of a governance structure that aligns with Te Tiriti, preparing ourselves for the huge health reforms next year and ensuring our campus is well placed to address equity in our community.’ she said.

Pitama was the Hauora Māori Faculty Lead in the Otago Medical School and one of the Māori sub-editors on the New Zealand Medical Journal. In 2015 she won the Prime Minister’s Supreme Award for Tertiary Teaching Excellence.

Proud of her Ngāti Kahungunu/Ngāti Whare whakapapa she says many Māori leaders have paved the way before her, within Otago University.

‘When I think of our earliest graduates like Te Rangihiroa, the first Māori Dean of a Medical School, Professor Eru Pomare, the work in te reo Māori from Professor Poia Rewi, and mana wahine leadership like Professor Jacinta Ruru, I realise the mahi they put in, and the work laid before me now to build on their legacies.’

Current Vice-Chancellor Professor Helen Nicholson says Professor Pitama has demonstrated excellent leadership in the University and wider community.

‘She has a clear vision for the University of Otago, Christchurch and is very well respected throughout the University of Otago Christchurch, and the wider University,’ she says.

‘Professor Pitama has already inspired numerous up and coming Māori female academics and this a really significant appointment in terms of providing a strong role model for the wahine of the future.’

Pitama takes the reigns from Professor David Murdoch, who was announced as the University’s new Vice-Chancellor earlier this year, she will begin her new role in February.