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New leaders in Division of Health Sciences

Thursday 11 August 2022 12:06pm

HSleadersmainProfessor Patricia Priest is the Acting Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Division of Health Sciences - Te Wāhanga Matua Mātau and Professor Neil Gemmell has filled the newly created Acting Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor role.

The Acting Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Division of Health Sciences - Te Wāhanga Matua Mātau is Professor Patricia Priest.

The newly created Acting Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor role is filled by Professor Neil Gemmell.

Health Sciences is a large and diverse Division with campuses in Ōtautahi (Christchurch), Ōtepoti, (Dunedin), and Pōneke (Wellington), a Southland Hub in Waihōpai (Invercargill) and a dental clinic in Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland).

The Division delivers undergraduate programmes in Biomedical Sciences, Dental Technology, Dentistry, Health Sciences, Medical Laboratory Science, Medicine, Oral Health, Pharmacy, Physiotherapy, and Radiation Therapy as well as more than 100 postgraduate programmes.

Professor Patricia Priest is an expert in public health, particularly infectious disease epidemiology, prevention and control.

Originally from Christchurch, she studied her medical degree at Otago, public health in Auckland and then a DPhil at the University of Oxford. Her family have been in Dunedin since the end of 2005, “which is a really long time for me; before that we moved every five years or less”.

She greatly values working at Otago and feels privileged to be part of the leadership team. “We’ve got something really good here at Otago. I am looking forward to leading and supporting the ongoing delivery of excellent teaching and research for which the Division is well known.”

Alongside a continuation of the key activities of the role, such as the current setting of budgets and academic promotions, Professor Priest sees a priority being building our relationships with the new health system, including Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand, and Te Aka Whai Ora – Maori Health Authority.

When seeking expressions of interest for the role of Acting PVC, Vice-Chancellor Professor David Murdoch indicated that he was also looking for someone to lead a review of its structure.

Professor Priest says it is exciting to lead the team tasked with this, along with her deputy Professor Neil Gemmell.

“We don’t get many opportunities to do a review, so let’s be thorough and considered. As we are a large and diverse Division, we will be broad and creative in our thinking. However, this does not mean we are committed to change if it isn’t required. I am not an advocate of change for change’s sake.

“I am really interested in understanding systems and how things work and go together, and how you can facilitate them working well. There are always challenges and I am interested in how we overcome these and enhance our strengths.

“My aim is that the outcome of the review will be an environment in which we can each do our best work.”

Professor Priest sees the timing of the review aligning well with a commitment to broader change across the University, including a University-wide cultural transformation, and the operationalisation of our commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

“I am really committed to Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership and equity, and our Vice-Chancellor is explicit in his commitment to a Tiriti-led University. We are ready to make this positive change, so it is an exciting time.”

Professor Priest was Head of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine at Otago from 2017 to 2020. In 2021, she was the Chief Clinical Advisor Epidemiology in the COVID Response Directorate, which included working with a multi-agency group on COVID modelling.

“This was fascinating, and fast-paced. I came away with a lot of respect for the work people do in the Ministry; a lot of very clever people working really hard on complex topics, under a lot of scrutiny.”

In July, she was appointed to the Strategic COVID-19 Public Health Advisory Group. She has also served on the Ministry of Health Technical Advisory Committee for COVID and as Chair of its Epidemiology subgroup.

Acting Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor Professor Neil Gemmell

Professor Neil Gemmell comes to the newly created role of Acting Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor from the role of Dean of the School of Biomedical Sciences, which he was appointed to earlier this year.

Born in Wellington’s Hutt Valley, Professor Gemmell has been at the University of Otago since 2008.

“The University is a fantastic institution; there are many things to be very proud of.”

He describes his research as a blend of ecology, population, conservation, and evolutionary biology with a special interest in reproduction. He has recently been involved in work analysing wastewater for traces of COVID-19.

Previous roles at Otago include the AgResearch Leading Thinkers Chair of Reproduction and Genomics based in the Department of Anatomy, Director of the Centre for Reproduction and Genomics and Head of the Department of Anatomy.

Professor Gemmell says the role of PVC is already very large, add to that an upcoming review and it really needs more capacity, which he is pleased to provide as Acting Deputy PVC.

Like Professor Priest, he sees the timing is set well for this review to dovetail in with any wider University strategies.

“We are fortunate to have a Vice-Chancellor coming in who has been a key contributor to the Division over many years and is intimately knowledgeable about the Division, and our successes and failings.”

“This review will really empower our community to reflect on where we are and where we want to go to build a better future for ourselves and our wider communities. Our Division has an opportunity to set our own strategy, and then find the right leader to deliver on that strategy.”

Professor Gemmel says the review will be focussed on how the Division is organised to maximise opportunity for staff and students.

“There are many things that are going well, and we need to optimise these. We need to find the smart solutions that may not be immediately obvious to everyone - but somebody in our Division will already know some of the answers. As Linus Pauling said, ‘the secret to having a good idea is to have lots of ideas’; you just need to know how to triage.’”

During Professor Gemmell’s time as Acting Deputy PVC, Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith serves as Acting Dean for the School of Biomedical Sciences. Professor Gemmell says the “eminent researcher and accomplished teacher” is an excellent choice with her prior leadership experience that includes Head of Department of Anatomy, and strong knowledge of the School.

- - Kōrero by Antonia Wallace