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Newest Associate Dean (Pacific) dedicated to better Pacific health outcomes

Friday 1 October 2021 1:08pm

The University of Otago’s newest Associate Dean (Pacific) is dedicated to achieving better health outcomes for Pasifika.

Pacific Leadership Fono Summit image
Charleen Silcock. Photo credit: Michael Lameta - Pacific Islands Research and Student Support Unit (PIRSSU)

Charleen Silcock began in the newly established role of Associate Dean (Pacific) to the School of Physiotherapy in July.

In her role, Charleen’s focus is to support Pasifika students studying physiotherapy.

“It’s about making sure our students are okay pastorally and academically, taking care of them and connecting them to people who can help them.”

There is also a broader goal of helping to ensure “our health system mirrors the diversity in our community”.

“Long-term, it’s about trying to improve the inequity in our health system,” she says.

“If we’re going to make improvements, we need more Pasifika health workers in our Pacific communities.

“The greater the number of Pacific physiotherapists in the workforce, the better our services can be accessed by our communities, especially if our clients feel comfortable and culturally safe.”

Providing students with career opportunities beyond their studies is another priority for Charleen.

“There needs to be links between studying and joining the workforce. Once they’ve finished studying, I want our students to have a network, so they know where to go from here.”

School of Physiotherapy Dean Professor Leigh Hale says this role is crucial not only in the development of New Zealand’s Pacific physiotherapy workforce but in advancing Pacific cultural competencies and Pacific health knowledge of all staff and students within the School.

“We are delighted to welcome Charleen on board.”

As a member of the Pacific Physiotherapy Association (PPA) committee, Charleen is particularly excited about the relaunch of the PPA, which she hopes will help form those networks.

“The PPA connects our community, our schools, and our physiotherapists. It gives these groups a voice.”

Charleen is herself a graduate of the University of Otago School of Physiotherapy. She worked in a private practice in Wellington and then for the NHS in London.

She spent five years at a private practice in Auckland before returning to Dunedin to work as a musculoskeletal physiotherapist at a private practice, which she continues to do four days a week.

Her love of studying and learning drew Charleen back the School of Physiotherapy for postgraduate study.

“I love listening to the way other people think and connecting with people with a passion for what they do.”

Ms Silcock spent seven years working with sports teams from the Cook Islands before returning to academia to complete a master’s project in Pasifika rugby and physiotherapy.

Charleen recently presented her research at Galulue mo le lumana'i: A celebration of Pasifika Physiotherapy research.

She says it is encouraging to see that her colleagues at the School of Physiotherapy are so aware of the importance of diverse research and are proactively supporting it.

Having ties to the Cook Islands, Scotland, Aotearoa, Tahiti and Niue, Charleen feels strongly about the seminal role that her cultural identity plays in her practice. She has an increasing awareness of where she is from, and appreciates the strength in her hands and intuitive touch inherited from her father.

Being on a cultural journey herself, Charleen encourages her students to engage with their culture and communities.

“I want my students to learn about where they are from, and how special that makes them.”