Professor Sue Crengle has always been motivated to work as a GP and a public health physician so she can help eliminate inequities for Māori within our public health system. Professor Crengle, whose iwi are Kāti Māmoe, Kāi Tahu, and Waitaha, is now in the perfect position to influence change after she was appointed to the Māori Health Authority in 2021, a body established as part of the Government’s major reform of the health system.
“The health reforms, in general, are an amazing opportunity because the Government has been clear that equity and improved health outcomes are really important components,” she explains.
“It’s exciting that there’s such an explicit focus on equity and improving Māori health outcomes across the whole reform. The Māori Health Authority is charged with a number of things that will contribute to developing a thriving
Māori hauora sector and ensuring that the rest of the sector is performing in terms of Māori health outcomes and reducing inequities.”
It’s been a year since her appointment, and she admits that the Authority has a huge job to achieve. But she says they are on the right track.
“There’s lots of media scrutiny and people will have their own personal views and opinions. To be successful we have to eat the elephant one bite at a time. We can only do what we can, little by little” she says.
Professor Crengle grew up between Wellington and Auckland following her father’s job in the Navy. He told her as a little girl that he wanted her to be a doctor. Despite having no other medical professionals in her family, her father’s hopes and dreams for her career path stayed with her and she vowed to pursue medicine.
“I was very lucky because my parents told me that I could do whatever I like and I could be anything that I wanted to be. There were no limits for me.”
At high school she declared that she planned to go to medical school. Her teacher advised her to choose another career path because no one from their school had become a doctor. But that didn’t deter her from pursuing medicine.
She enrolled to study medicine at Auckland University in 1980 and graduated in 1985.
“When I attended medical school there were three other Māori in my class. These days, there are about fifty Māori in each intake, and that’s great to see more of us in the field.”
Professor Crengle specialises in general and public health medicine and has been working as a researcher for over 25 years. She’s the perfect health professional to be on the new Māori Health Authority board because much of her work has involved the inequities in our health system and looking at ways to eliminate them. She currently dedicates one day a week in GP practice in Invercargill, where she currently resides.
“I’ve been in the health system for quite a while, more decades than I care to admit. Undoubtedly, we are seeing some improvements and changes over time. For example, the difference in life expectancy between Māori and non-
Māori is a couple of years less than it used to be. Mortality rates with cardiovascular disease over time have fallen” she says.
“There has been progress. But it's slow. There are also things that have gotten worse. Cervical screening coverage and the percentage of Māori women who have had this screening has dropped significantly over time.”
“Fundamentally, Māori have a right to excellent access and quality of care. I’ve always advocated to try and remove any unfair and unjust treatment of our health outcomes.”
Another avenue that Professor Crengle has given back to the medical profession is by teaching at Otago University.
“I teach in the public health program, around Māori public health, with an understanding of Māori health. With non-Māori students, we support them in becoming reflective because they will be working in areas that will impact on Māori health. They will need to be reflective about themselves and their own potential bias. We also need them to understand Māori health concepts and work within the communities. For Māori students, we want to share experiences with them and have them see that there is a wide range of places for them to work in the health system.”
Outside of medicine, Professor Crengle likes to exercise by doing cross fit and loves getting her hands dirty in the garden.
“I’m very proud of growing my fennel,” she says with a smile.