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Understanding Māori health inequities

Associate Professor Jo Baxter

Which path do you take when you’re a medical academic wanting to strengthen policy and practice with regard to Māori health and wellbeing – do you take a strategic direction in leadership roles, or a research road to root out where inequities may lie?

Associate Professor Jo Baxter (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Mamoe, Waitaha and Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō) is taking on both.

Jo is a Public Health Physician who is Associate Dean Māori for both the Division of Health Sciences and the Dunedin School of Medicine and is Director of Kōhatu – Centre for Hauora Māori along with other roles in Māori development.

Jo Baxter and team“As Director of the Māori Health Workforce Development Unit (MHWDU), I oversee a number of programmes supporting young Māori into health professional degrees at Otago and ultimately growing the Māori health workforce in New Zealand. The MHWDU team offers tailored programmes to support excellence in young Māori students spanning from high school through to foundation studies, Health Sciences First Year and into degree study.

“One of the things that runs alongside these programmes is a need for research and evaluation to support what we do and find what is best practice in this area,” Jo says. “Last, year our team, led by programme manager Zoë Bristowe (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Porou) was awarded a grant from Ako Aotearoa – the research arm of the Tertiary Research Education Commission. We are looking at how we can gain really good outcomes for Māori in HSFY taking a strengths-based approach.”

Jo - folding armsIn the same vein of strategic research informing practice, Jo is working alongside Associate Dean Māori and Senior Lecturer at the University of Otago, Christchurch Suzanne Pitama (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Whare) in examining medical education and how indigenous health is taught.

“It is important to me to support emerging Māori researchers, through summer studentships for example. Alongside doing research there are some really important leadership roles waiting for them, too.”

Joanne finds these strategic roles compete with her personal research time. Nevertheless, she has deep interest in understanding health inequality, Māori mental health and child health issues. With her background in psychiatry, Joanne was part of the New Zealand Mental Health Survey team. She works with the Injury Prevention Research Unit in the area of hazardous drinking. She is also the Theme Leader for Māori Health in the Dunedin longitudinal study.

“I’m also involved in the Next Generation study that sits alongside the Dunedin longitudinal study – looking at the 15 year old children of study members. It’s great to be part of an intergenerational study. From a Māori perspective the intergenerational aspect offers many opportunities.”