International Women's Day 2024: Dr Sarah Harris
Dr Sarah Harris joined the Etu Pasifika Canterbury (EPC) team in 2023, bringing years of seasoned experience in her field of paediatrics. Dr Harris is a valued team member who cares deeply for the longevity of a child’s life.

With International Women’s Day (IWD) approaching, Dr Harris shares her journey as a woman in the paediatric health industry. 

 “As a woman and a mother, I have walked a different path than my male colleagues, which I feel has given me the opportunity to connect with the mothers of the children I care for, and with the female students that I mentor, in a unique way." 

 Dr Harris also shares the trials and challenges she has faced with the nature of her work.  

 “I was born in Zimbabwe and only 14% of girls in Zimbabwe complete secondary school, and among the poorest children this falls to 1%. 1 in 3 girls are married before the age of 18, and 1 in 20 before the age of 15. This severely limits women’s opportunities for economic advancement.  

 "Having said that, there are still challenges for female doctors in New Zealand – although women now outnumber men at medical school, there are high rates of burnout amongst female clinicians. 

 "Lack of part-time training positions and lack of support and understanding for the challenges of juggling work and raising a family contribute to this. 

 "This is also true for men who want to take time out of full-time work to care for their children."  Dr Harris took a leap on her career path of uncertainty and has come out the other side as a walking epitome of inspiration.  

 "I trained as a neonatal intensive care paediatrician but found that the hours and workload were incompatible with what I wanted to give my children in my role as a mother. I had to make the difficult decision to walk away from that career and carve out a different and much more uncertain career path.” 

 During her week, she shares her working hours between EPC as a paediatrician, as well as being a Senior Lecturer at the University of Otago. She is involved in teaching child health, conducting research and is also a paediatrician at the South Island Perinatal Mental Health Service, supporting mothers who are parenting young children while living with mental illness. 

 She believes that all women who have aspirations to work in the health sector can definitely succeed, despite the busyness. 

 “Go for it. If you are interested in people and passionate about helping people and willing to work hard – we need you. There are many paths in healthcare – there will be one that is right for you.” 

 EPC is fortunate to have Dr Harris two days a week in the clinic.  

 Currently, she is working on an in-house programme, 'Bula Talei', a service to support child health, brain development and learning in the first 2000 days.  

 Dr Harris is excited to get the Bula Talei programme off the ground  

 “This is a chance to build a First 2000 Days nurturing care programme to support children from low-income families to have the best start in life. 

 "The chance to work within such a compassionate and dedicated Pasifika health care team was an opportunity that inspired me.  

 "Etu Pasifika Canterbury has supported me to be innovative in the way we offer this programme to meet the needs of our families and I will work hard to see the children we care for are healthy, happy and ready to shine brightly by the time they start school.” 

 Dr Harris shares what her superpower would be if she could have one.  

 “The power of tranquillity. I see so much stress and anxiety and anger in the world today. I think the ability to instil calmness in people would solve a lot of the world’s problems. 

 "We would all be able to think more clearly, connect better with others and build stronger, happier communities.” 

 The inspiration and empowerment continues with Dr Harris as her passions dive deep into cardiovascular health, trekking deep and making connections between early life opportunities and exposures impacting our futures.  

 “I have always enjoyed working with children. They change so much from birth through to adolescence that they are endlessly interesting, fun and inspiring. 

 "I have seen both the enduring negative impact of early life adversity but also the huge opportunity to set them up for lifelong health and happiness if we can give them what they need in those early years. It is a privilege to be a part of that.  

"Although one of my research studies is currently looking at heart health in adults, in fact our risk of heart attacks and strokes actually starts at the very beginning of our life. We need to think about the heart health of our children and ensure they stay active and have access to healthy food if we are to protect them from dying early from potentially preventable cardiovascular diseases.”  

In Pacific culture, our aiga (family) are the foundations that we seek to serve and build. To have Dr Harris at EPC, supporting and providing opportunities for our infants and children and educating patients and staff about the connection between those first 2000 days of life, is extremely valuable.  


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