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Otago researcher awarded Te Rangi Hiroa Medal

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Wednesday 11 November 2015 12:31pm

Ruth Fitzgerald image
Associate Professor Ruth Fitzgerald

University of Otago Associate Professor Ruth Fitzgerald was awarded the Te Rangi Hiroa Medal by the Royal Society of New Zealand last night.

The prestigious medal recognises Associate Professor Fitzgerald’s work as a medical anthropologist that has placed many health issues such as genetic testing, reproductive decisions and oral health in a New Zealand social and political context.

Her research covers the anthropology of health and medicine in New Zealand with a particular focus on biotechnologies such as genetic testing. She uses qualitative research methods to study cultures around health care.

She has written on health policy, health practitioners and the experiences of people with illness and disabilities and has made a valuable contribution to these communities and New Zealand public health policy, the medal selection panel said.

She has researched topics such as:

  • should heritable deafness be reversed through genetic means when many deaf people do not see deafness as a disability?
  • how is Down syndrome portrayed in the media?
  • what is the experience of women living with increased breast cancer risk through a mutated gene?
  • how does moral reasoning influence the decision to terminate pregnancies in both men and women?
  • what is the emotional experience of IVF scientists?
  • how do lower-income people approach looking after their teeth?
  • How do people respond to food contamination scares?

Associate Professor Fitzgerald has recently finished working on a three-year Marsden-funded project “Troubling Choice,” which explored the everyday ethical thinking of people who live at the intersections of reproductive, genetic and moral choices.

“I am truly delighted to receive this medal,” Associate Professor Fitzgerald said.

“I would like to thank my research colleagues, both in New Zealand and abroad, and all of my postgraduate students, for the manner in which they have contributed to the collaborative and collegial research environment in which I have been so fortunate to work.

“Most of all, I wish to thank the participants in all of my studies who have graciously allowed an outsider into their lives at various and often quite private and troubling moments.”

Associate Professor Fitzgerald, who worked as a Radiation Therapist, is based in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Otago, where she has received many teaching and supervisor award including the University of Otago Best Supervisor of the Year Award in 2014.

The Te Rangi Hiroa medal was awarded at the 2015 Research Honours Dinner held in Auckland last night. Associate Professor Fitzgerald’s Otago colleague Professor Richard Blaikie (Physics) also received the Thomson Medal at the event in honour of his significant contributions to science leadership in Centres of Research excellence and other national collaborative activities devoted to investigator-led research.

For more information, contact:

Associate Professor Ruth Fitzgerald
Department of Anthropology and Archaeology
University of Otago

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