Keeping staff, students, alumni and other stakeholders up-to-date with developments, achievements and research at the Otago Medical School.
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Tēnā koutou kātoa,
I am delighted to write my first Dean’s message to all of our Otago Medical School students and staff across the three campuses in Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington and our alumni and friends across New Zealand and the world. It’s now about three months since I arrived in Dunedin and what a change the world has seen…
He waka eke noa
We’re all in this together
New Zealand has done well compared to many nations in the world and let’s keep it that way until we pass this pandemic, which may take many months. There is a meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveller, and when we come out on the other side of this pandemic journey, many incredible lessons would have been deposited on our lives.
We are truly grateful to all of our academic staff, professional staff and students in advancing the Otago Medical School’s education, research and service missions during the Covid-19 pandemic. The energy, enthusiasm, cohesion and selfless dedication demonstrated by all of you is palpable and visible in transforming our Year 2 and Year 3 MB ChB, non-clinical components of Years 4 and 5 MB ChB programmes to online, keeping our trainee interns in clinical attachments, and taking BHealthSc and BMedLabSc programs to online. Our sincere appreciation goes to those continuing essential research programs, supervising higher research degree students (BMedSc(Hons), Masters and PhDs), seeing patients at the frontlines in affiliated hospitals and community clinics, and volunteering for community and the Government.
In addition to the University of Otago COVID-19 student assistance programme, Otago Medical School has distributed or committed more than $60,000 to date, to support our students in urgent financial need and help our trainee interns who had to return from overseas electives due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are extremely grateful for the donors who established Otago Medical School endowments over the last 145 years to support students in need. These have allowed the Otago Medical School to help students at this juncture.
Vision and Strategic Priorities for the Otago Medical School
As the Dean of the Otago Medical School my vision is – ‘Otago Medical School will remain one of the top medical schools in the world pushing boundaries of Medicine, Science, Education and advancing the health of communities in New Zealand and around the world'. Currently, Otago Medical School is ranked among the top 100 medical schools in the world1 (in the field of medicine and life sciences), thanks to all of your contributions and dedication advancing the school.
Our top strategic priorities are:
- Advance ‘One medical school with three collaborative campuses’ model across all disciplines of Medicine, teaching and research
- Grow research-intensive undergraduate and graduate student cohorts and enhance infrastructure and systems to elevate research output and impact
- Develop and implement provincial and rural medicine programmes to benefit New Zealand
- Build and enhance the international profile of the Otago Medical School
Otago Medical School Endowment Research Funding – 2020/21
From its endowments, Otago Medical School distributes more than $1.5 million for conducting research. This is spread over the three campuses (Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington) and the School of Biomedical Sciences to support research programmes affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and scholarships to support students undertaking research. These research grants/scholarships will cover scientific, clinical, health care delivery and educational research. The Otago Medical School Research Administrative office will monitor compliance to the endowments, follow progress reports and include the impact of these grants and scholarships in the Otago Medical School annual report for 2021.
Otago Medical School Medicine Entry Class - 2020
Otago Medical School is extremely proud of its commitment to the division of Health Sciences ‘mirror on society’ policy in selecting the second-year class of medical students, which includes special categories such as Māori, Pacific, low income families and refugees - mirroring the contemporary New Zealand society. We value our social accountability to our society and New Zealand.
Welcoming Māori and Pacific students
It was fitting to welcome the new Māori medical students to the Otago Medical School second year MB ChB class at the Ōtākou marae. I met with the leaders and the Chair of the New Zealand Medical Council to discuss the vision for the Otago Medical School and the challenges facing the New Zealand health care systems. I also had the chance to meet with all the Pacific students in Dunedin and learn about each of their journeys, aspirations and dedications.
Visits to Christchurch and Wellington campuses
It was delightful to visit Christchurch and Wellington campuses and meet with many of the Heads of Departments and senior leaders at each campus. I was deeply honoured and moved to participate during the one year remembrance ceremony for the Christchurch shooting event and meet with the students, staff, public and family members sharing their experiences.
We also had numerous engaging conversations, sharing ideas and the challenges we face together, to advance the missions of the Otago Medical School. I particularly enjoyed meeting the student leaders as a group and listening to their needs, ideas and feedback about the Otago Medical School programmes and suggestions to improve.
Visit to the International Medical University (IMU)
I attended the academic council meeting of the International Medical University in Malaysia as Otago Medical School will be welcoming six international students from IMU in 2022. It was an opportunity to meet with academic leaders of IMU and Deans of many of the partnering Medical and Dental Schools from Australia, United Kingdom, Canada and the United States to exchange ideas and program preparations.
1 2020 QS World University Rankings
Finally, my family and I would like to express our sincere personal thanks to everyone who welcomed us warmly to the University of Otago. It is truly a pleasure to return home after 15 years in the United States, to work with incredibly talented people and contribute to the advancement of the Otago Medical School, the University of Otago and New Zealand.
Please stay safe and warm and we will be in touch with another edition of Otago MediNews during Winter 2020.
Dean OMS and Head of Dunedin Medical Campus
Professor Paul Brunton, PVC Health Sciences, presents a farewell gift to Professor Barry Taylor.
Professor Barry Taylor had originally intended to stand down as Dean of the Dunedin School of Medicine in 2018. This was thwarted by his accepting the appointment of Acting Dean, Otago Medical School, a double posting that ended up lasting throughout 2019. During the past year Barry has split his time between DSM and OMS, keeping things running until the appointment late last year of Professor Rathan Subramaniam and his arrival in early 2020. Barry officially finished as DSM Dean in January 2020 after leading the school since 2014. His departure was marked by the traditional foyer presentation attended by a strong turnout of colleagues to wish him well, with tributes led by Health Sciences Pro-Vice-Chancellor Paul Brunton and Rathan Subramaniam. Jo Baxter and Faumuina Tai Sopoaga contributed the appreciation of the Māori and Pasifika teams, the latter of which were out in force to dance and sing their presentations to both Barry and his wife, Teresa.
Barry’s retirement from his leadership roles doesn’t mean he’s retiring just yet. Professor Taylor is back on deck in Paediatrics and will have more time for research. Away from the university, he’ll be admiring the wildlife enjoying the substantial birdbath that was his parting gift from the campus and his colleagues.
Professor Rathan Subramaniam’s first official function was a mihi on 30 January to welcome him to the Dunedin campus. The formal greeting was attended by community representatives, senior Divisional staff and OMS colleagues. Professor Subramaniam took the opportunity to offer his vision for an internationally-recognised medical school.
OMS congratulates Professor Subramaniam who has been honoured with recognition as one of the inaugural class of Fellows of the Association of University Radiologists (AUR). This honour is reserved for individuals who have made contributions in administration, mentorship, professionalism, research, teaching, service and leadership in organised medicine, and scholarship and service to the AUR over the years.
Professor Brian Hyland has been appointed as Interim Dean of the School of Biomedical Sciences, following Professor Vernon Ward stepping down as Dean at the end of 2019 to lead a major research project.
Many staff will be aware that the Previous Dean of the School of Biomedical Sciences, Professor Vernon Ward, stepped down from the role at the end of 2019. Professor Brian Hyland has been appointed as Interim Dean. Most current staff will already know Brian, not just for his research and teaching in the Department of Physiology, but also as Associate Dean Medical Admissions for the past three years. He is reluctantly stepping down from that role while Interim Dean, BMS for the next two years
Brian has provided a useful summary of the history and recent changes to the structure of the previous Otago School of Medical Sciences now known as the School of Biomedical Sciences.
On 12 November 2019 the University Council approved a change to the structure of the Division of Health Sciences that redefined the relationship of the School of Biomedical Sciences (Departments of Anatomy, Biochemistry, Microbiology & Immunology, Pharmacology & Toxicology, and Physiology) with the Otago Medical School. This was in response to a 2017 QA review and has been effective since 1 January this year.
If you didn’t notice the earth move, it is because this change really represents a formal capturing of many years of practical reality of how things work, rather than a sudden upheaval.
The School of Biomedical Sciences was formed in 1996 as the Otago School of Medical Sciences to consolidate the departments that taught the pre-clinical curriculum component of the professional Health Sciences courses, including, but not only, in medicine. The historical governance structure pertaining to these Departments as part of the Faculty of Medicine, was retained at that time. However, from inception, the School has functioned as a separate entity in financial and operational terms, but with a special relationship with the OMS due to the strong contribution to teaching and shared research interests.
The change simply formalises this long-standing operational independence, with the School of Biomedical Sciences (as it’s been known since the Faculty of Medicine regained the Otago Medical School name in 2015) now officially recognised as sitting at the same level as other Health Sciences Division Schools.
The change thus makes little difference to the management structures and operations of either the OMS or BMS. Importantly, it will not in any way diminish the strong ongoing relationship between BMS and OMS in teaching and research. Perhaps the best illustration of this is that in the absence of a formal announcement, staff may not be aware that there has been a change. In fact, by bringing long standing arrangements that can become taken for granted into clear view, it provides a great opportunity to focus even more strongly on these relationships and to build them further.
We thank Brian for taking on the position as Interim Dean in these challenging times and look forward to hearing more about the ongoing success of the staff and students of the BMS.
Mr Donald Evan Murray (Murray) MacCormick (MB ChB 1969) , for services to health, particularly surgery; Dr Edward (Ted) Ward (MB ChB 1963), for services to intensive care practice.
Dr John Wayne Delahunt (MB ChB 1966), for services to endocrinology and the transgender community
Professor Ngaire Margaret Kerse (MB ChB 1984), For services to seniors and health
Dr Alison Heather Gaston, (MB ChB Otago 1976), For services to health and health education
Three Otago researchers were awarded just over $900,000 of a $3.8m Health Research Council funding round for COVID-19 related research.
Infectious Diseases Grant
Researcher-initiated proposals funded solely by the Health Research Council
Professor Michael Baker, Public Health, Wellington
COVID-19 Pandemic in Aotearoa NZ: Impact, inequalities & improving our response
2020 COVID-19 New Zealand Rapid Response Research
Request for Proposals funded by the Ministry of Health and Health Research Council
Ms Lesley Gray, Primary Health and General Practice, Wellington
Improving effectiveness and equity in the operation of COVID-19 ‘self-isolation’
Associate Professor Jo-Ann Stanton, Anatomy, Dunedin
An effective point-of-care screening pathway for COVID-19
Infectious diseases specialist Dr Ayesha Verrall on the need for more community testing:
With a little help from his friends, University of Otago, Wellington, alumnus Dr Zeid Abussuud created a moving video urging everyone to stay at home and stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr Abussuud’s YouTube video, ‘Do it for the whole world: stay at home’, includes video footage from a diverse range of people from 45 different countries, speaking in 26 different languages. Watch the video here:
Department of Pathology, Dunedin Campus
The Department of Pathology is proud of the many achievements of graduates of its highly regarded Medical Laboratory Science programme. Many take up careers in diagnostic laboratories where they are among the heroes of modern health care (especially now). Others, such as Antonio Ahn, continue in research. Having graduated with a Bachelor of Medical Laboratory Science in 2010, we have witnessed Antonio’s skyrocketing successes in the world of cutting edge biomolecular research as he progressed through a Postgraduate Diploma and then Masters in Medical Laboratory Science. It is with great pleasure that we now congratulate Antonio on his successful completion of the requirements for an excellent PhD. His studies, under the supervision of Professor Michael Eccles, used a combination of molecular laboratory investigations along with sophisticated bioinformatic skills to explore the regulation of immune checkpoint proteins in melanoma. Antonio demonstrated these and audio-visual skills recently as he presented his departmental PhD seminar by Zoom.
We wish him well on the next stage of his career as a post-doctoral research fellow with Dr Shom Goel, Group Leader and Medical Oncologist, at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne. Antonio will investigate the role of transposable elements in regulating treatment resistance in breast cancer.
Bioethics Staff contribute to research and advising on COVID-19
Associate Professor Neil Pickering is Chair of the National Ethics Advisory Committee Kāhui Matatika o te Motu (NEAC). The Committee’s role is to offer ethical advice to the Minister of Health, and to work with the Ministry of Health’s ethics team on the development and maintenance of ethical standards in the health sector. NEAC has continued to meet on a regular basis throughout the current pandemic, strongly aware of the pressures that COVID-19 and the response to it are likely to pose to the health service and the populace at all levels. NEAC’s earlier (2007) advice in relation to pandemic planning Getting Through Together has been referred to in a number of Government documents. NEAC is currently developing an ethical framework to help decision makers allocate and prioritise scarce resources during a pandemic, and providing advice and support to the sector.
Dr Elizabeth Fenton’s work on the ethical obligation to ensure adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline healthcare workers generated some media interest. A blog originally posted to the Journal of Medical Ethics was republished on Newshub Opinion:
Elizabeth spoke with Radio New Zealand and TVNZ Breakfast about providing PPE as a reciprocal obligation owed to health care workers whose work puts them at increased risk during an infectious disease pandemic. PPE is one of many critical health system investments that tend to be undervalued except in times of crisis:
Participation for the world-first MiaoMiao trial continues through lockdown via Zoom
Dr Mona Elbalshy
Department of Women's and Children's Health
This world-first trial studying DIY / open source continuous glucose monitoring technology in children with Type 1 Diabetes is conducted at the Department of Women's and Children's Health, Dunedin Medical Campus. The study is well-designed to continue work via Zoom meetings. Continuous glucose monitoring provides continuous readings of glucose every 1–5 minutes to the patient; this plays an important role in both intensive management of T1D and in the prevention of hypoglycaemia which is a serious side effect. Recently, a third-party DIY device (MiaoMiao) has been introduced into the market; this device can be combined with a cheaper glucose monitoring system (the Abbott Freestyle Libre) that is already being used by participants to offer many advantages of currently available commercial CGM yet at a significantly reduced cost.
This is the first randomised trial in the world of this open source glucose monitoring technology. PhD student, Dr Mona Elbalshy, and Mrs Shirley Jones have been at the forefront of these activities conducting training sessions, supporting participants, and allowing them to progress through the crossover study arms. They have been supervised by Associate Professor Ben Wheeler, Associate Professor Barbara Galland, and Dr Sara Boucher. Mona says: "We are really excited and pleased that we have been able to continue to support participants through this difficult time. The cloud-based monitoring technology that this platform is based on is ideal for lockdown and participating families and children have valued the added security of continuous glucose monitoring during this stressful time." Thirty nine people have now entered the study from the SDHB region and soon new participants will enter via telehealth and/or in person (when allowed) from other national study sites. This study is supported by Lottery Health Research Grant and the University of Otago.
NZ MSOD Project - update
The NZ Medical School Outcomes Database and Longitudinal Tracking (MSOD) Project has reached a milestone in our on-going data collection. We have just completed an initial survey of our original cohort of doctors who graduated from the Otago Medical School in 2011 (PGY8 doctors), before opening the survey at the end of the year to all doctors who graduated from medical schools in New Zealand in 2012. We are grateful to these doctors, more than half of whom engaged with the questionnaire, providing details of their work placements, career milestones and aspirations, and the influences that have shaped their career choices. We continue to collect data on students as they enter medical school and up to PGY8 after graduation.
The data collected from these doctors is added to that collected from them as they commenced and graduated medical school; at one, three, and five years after graduation; and to information about their clinical placements collected from their medical schools. Following the administration of our 2020 Commencing Medical School questionnaire, and the 2019 Graduating, PGY1, PGY3, PGY5, and PGY8 questionnaires, we will have collected data from more than 5500 medical students and more than 3500 doctors.
This longitudinal collection of data from medical students and doctors is unique in the world. The MSOD Project was founded by the Medical Deans of Australia and New Zealand. While the New Zealand MSOD Project has fulfilled the original project aims, the Australian MSOD Project has been constrained by resource funding to collecting data solely from graduating medical students.
While primarily designed to record career preferences and choices, it also collects other information about medical school and postgraduate experiences. MSOD data is used by our project partners, the Ministry of Health, and our own researchers and collaborators working in the field of planning and forecasting for our future medical workforce in New Zealand. Our reports on national data sets and links to published articles can be found on the NZ MSOD website:
We acknowledge and thank the Ministry of Health for ongoing funding for this valuable project.
We are also pleased to welcome Dr Alex Salkeld (pictured) to the Otago team in the role of Assistant Research Fellow.
COVID-19 funding for Wellington researchers
Researchers from the University of Otago, Wellington have been awarded new Government funding to work on COVID-19 research projects.
In addition to Professor Michael Baker from the Department of Public Health receiving $500,000 to research the epidemiology and impact of the pandemic on New Zealanders, Lesley Gray, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Primary Health Care and General Practice, has been granted $179,904 to look at how ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities could be affecting the ability of New Zealanders to self-isolate. The funding has been made available through a joint Health Research Council of New Zealand and Ministry of Health initiative to help combat the current coronavirus pandemic and prepare the country for future threats of this type.
Professor Baker’s project will bring together a diverse team, led by Dr Amanda Kvalsvig, and will include a citizen science project run by University of Otago students that aims to understand lived experience of the pandemic. Photographer and videographer Luke Pilkinton-Ching will contribute to the historical record by documenting the pandemic and the response. Ms Gray’s project will provide a comprehensive picture of isolation and physical distancing measures in New Zealand, including an assessment of knowledge, attitudes and practices among a population sample.
The research findings from the two studies will be fed back rapidly to the Ministry of Health to support improvements in how the pandemic response is managed, with a focus on improving effectiveness and equity.
Fulbright New Zealand Scholar
Associate Dean (Pacific) Dr Dianne Sika-Paotonu has received a 2020 Scholar Award from Fulbright New Zealand to travel to the United States at the end of this year.
Dr Sika-Paotonu will use the opportunity to build and strengthen collaborative linkages with American scientists and scholars. “It is a privilege to be given the opportunity to travel to the USA and make a research contribution as a Fulbright Scholar,” she says. Dr Sika-Paotonu plans to travel to Harvard University and the University of Oklahoma where she will continue to research acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease, conditions which disproportionately affect indigenous people in New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific region.
She will also continue her work supporting the development of a blood test to identify circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA), which could enable cancer to be detected at an earlier stage.
Dr Sika-Paotonu is one of eight academics from six New Zealand universities and research institutions to be selected in the 2020 round.
Early Learning in Medicine (years 2/3)
The OMS, ELM Programme is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr Ruth Barnett as the Convenor for Clinical Skills, ELM. Ruth graduated from Otago Medical School in 1985 and as well as working as a part-time GP in Dunedin, has taught in the ELM Clinical Skills Programme Module since 2009. More recently Ruth was appointed as Lead Tutor for Clinical Skills Year 2 and has been the Acting Convenor this year. See the recent item which appeared in the ODT below.
Monday 11 May 2020
‘I had to rope in the only living person that I’ve got’
When medical lecturer Ruth Barnett needed a helping hand — or a helping leg or a helping back for that matter — she did not need to look beyond her bubble to find one.
Since teaching at the University of Otago went online due to Covid-19 Alert Level 4 restrictions, Dr Barnett has been filming instructional clips for her second and third year medical skills students about how to interact with patients.
‘I had to rope in the only living person that I’ve got’ (Otago Daily Times website)
Wednesday 13 May 2020
Otago researchers fast-track app for bowel disease sufferers in new Covid-19 era
The advent of COVID-19 has resulted in University of Otago researchers, in collaboration with others in New Zealand, fast-tracking development of a smartphone application (app) to help improve care for people with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (also called inflammatory bowel disease or IBD), as fewer of them will be able to meet with specialists.
With the help of Crohn’s and Colitis NZ Charitable Trust, a charity organisation supporting people with IBD in New Zealand and IT company Stratos Technology Partners, the app is being launched nationally this month with significant interest from both patients and healthcare providers. Interested people need to contact their specialist or IBD nurse to get the app.
IBDsmart, an app for symptom monitoring for patients with IBD has been developed by a team of researchers led by Head of the Department of Medicine and Gastroenterologist, Professor Michael Schultz.
A nationwide trial involving 100 patients compared those using IBDsmart with those seen in person by a specialist. After one year, there was no difference in health outcomes. These results were recently published in the international science journal, Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.
Professor Schultz explains there are more than 20,000 patients with IBD in New Zealand with numbers increasing about 5.6 per cent annually.
“COVID-19 doesn’t allow us to see patients in person as most of our patients belong to the group classified as vulnerable due to their immunosuppressive medications.
“IBDsmart would provide an ideal platform to support telephone consultations. In case of a flare-up, healthcare providers would know in an instant what the problems are due to the answers given and submitted through the app, but also through the free-text option.”
Similar for regular monitoring, the app would ensure that patients with problems can be separated from patients with no problems and these patients given priority for an outpatient appointment.
Crohn’s and Colitis NZ’s chairperson Dr Richard Stein says his organisation strongly supports the initiative. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are life-long diseases that cause diarrhoea, extreme urgency and abdominal pain. While many people with IBD are stable on medication, flare-ups are common and often unpredictable, he explains.
“Flares that go unchecked frequently result in emergency room visits, hospitalisations and surgeries, all of which can often be avoided with timely intervention.
“In the current COVID-19 climate, many people are scared to go to their supermarket, much less go to the hospital for an appointment. Compounding the problem are long waiting lists for appointments and a critical shortage of gastroenterologists.
“IBDsmart will circumvent many of these issues. Patients who become unwell will have immediate access to their specialist, in time for their disease to be managed before more aggressive intervention will be needed. They will not need to schedule and wait, sometimes weeks, before getting appointment.”
The organisation has been seeking financial support to roll out IBDsmart nationally at no cost to the public. Funding has been received from Waitemata and Canterbury District Health Boards and the NZ Society for Gastroenterology to finalise some software upgrades, buy licenses and install a troubleshooting hotline.
Other people involved in the development of the app include Professor Holger Regenbrecht and Associate Professor Tobias Langlotz, from the University’s Department of Information Sciences; University of Otago, Christchurch gastroenterologist Professor Murray Barclay; Waitemata DHB gastroenterologist Dr Russell Walmsley and Southern DHB specialist IBD nurse Christine Ho.
For further information, contact
Professor Michael Schultz
Department of Medicine
Dr Richard Stein
Chairperson, Crohn’s and Colitis NZ
Call for expressions of interest
The Otago Medical School is inviting expressions of interest from current academic staff for the position of Associate Dean Medical Admissions.
This position is 0.2FTE fixed-term for 3 years.
This position is available from 1 July 2020. Current Associate Dean of Medical Admissions, Brian Hyland, has accepted the position of Dean, School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Otago and has agreed to mentor his successor.
The position would suit an academic staff member with an interest in admissions to Medicine, student-advising and counselling. They will have excellent inter-personal skills.
An understanding of the Health Sciences First Year (HSFY) programme, the Medical programme (MBChB), admission categories and admission regulations will be an advantage but training will be provided.
A role description and an Expression of Interest application form are available from Bruce Smith:
This is an opportunity to play a key role in what is one of the most important aspects of the Otago Medical School’s business. The Associate Dean positions don't become available very often so please think about this carefully and feel free to contact us if you would like more information:
- Bruce Smith, Manager, Otago Medical School
- Professor Rathan Subramaniam, Dean, Otago Medical School
Enquiries and applications will be treated in confidence.
Please send to Bruce Smith, Manager, Otago Medical School by 15 May 2020:
- The application form
- Personal statement (maximum two pages) and
- Your CV
Documents are available from Bruce Smith.