Associate Professor Joanne Baxter

Iwi Affliations: Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Mamoe, Waitaha

Finalist: Te Ururangi Award for Education


Associate Dean (Māori) Joanne Baxter is the director of the Māori Health Workforce Development Unit at the University of Otago.

The largest number of Māori medical students in New Zealand’s history – a total of 45 – graduated from Otago University in December 2016.

It reflects a collaborative effort between the university and the Ministry of Health, coordinated by the university’s Māori Health Workforce Development Unit and Māori Centre to support Māori health students throughout their university studies.

The unit is committed to significantly growing the Māori health workforce in New Zealand and the university expects at least this number of Māori doctors to graduate each year from now on.

The milestone continues a legacy created over a century ago by Otago when Te Rangi Hīroa became the first Māori doctor to graduate in 1904.


The Māori Health Workforce Development Unit developed Te Whakapuāwai in 2011.

The wrap-around programme of academic, pastoral and cultural care targets Māori students enrolled in Health Sciences First Year to foster academic excellence, create a supportive whānau environment and build a culture of peer support.

The aim is to support Māori academic excellence in the health sciences and increase the Māori health workforce through a number of tailored programmes.

Services include providing information, guidance, and support for Māori seeking pathways into health professional and health sciences study at the university.

For the first time at the University of Otago, Māori representation within the total number of medical graduates equates to the proportion of Māori in the New Zealand population.

Associate Dean Māori Joanne Baxter says achieving a representative proportion of Māori in the health graduation total is only part of the story.

“These young Māori doctors will join increased numbers also graduating from Auckland University; together these doctors will grow the Māori medical workforce by almost 20 per cent.

“This is a big change; these graduates and the ones that follow will join growing numbers of Māori who are making a difference for Māori health.

“The presence of these young Māori doctors will be felt by whānau, hospitals and communities and among the medical profession as they take up roles across the country.

“Not only that, there are other important consequences for the graduate’s communities; these graduates are already providing inspiration for young people who aspire to take up similar educational pathways.”

Te Whakapuāwai was built on key learnings from the University’s Tū Kahika scholarship programme that supports up to 20 Māori students through Foundation Year to begin tertiary studies.

“The threshold to enter the Otago Medical School has not changed.

“We have simply put a system of support around Māori students that has allowed them to persevere through first year health science studies, and progressed and sustained them over their five years of medical and other health profession training.”

The graduation is part of a much bigger strategy for Māori health workforce development at Otago University.

The Division of Health Sciences is working towards a representative socio-demographic profile of students across all nine of its health professional programmes.