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Diana Kopua

Diana (Ngāti Porou, Te Aitanga a Hauiti) is passionate about using Māori knowledge systems in health as a way forward for the Tairāwhiti community in Gisborne.

Diana KopuaWhat do you do on an average work day?

I’m based at Te Kūwatawata, a new and innovative service that also acts as a Māori art gallery. I am the clinical lead for the new service and I’m working with Mataora (Change agents) to create significant shifts in the way mental health needs are addressed. 

Most of my day is spent in wānanga with whānau in distress, as well as contributing to management and governance tasks.  I’m known as the ‘Risk Queen’ because my purpose is to ensure that everyone is conscious of systemic and health professional factors that contribute to health inequities for Māori. 

My favourite time is when I can sit in wānanga and share Māori creation stories with whānau, to be able to create ideas and images that strengthen the way whānau find meaning to the problems they present with. This is a significant part of the kaupapa Mahi a Atua, which I have introduced to the Tairāwhiti.

What did you study at school? And after high school?

Although I went to Mana College, I attribute my greatest learning journey to the local Polytechnic, ‘Whitireia’, in Porirua.  As a teenage mother I attended Whitireia (known as Parumoana Polytechnic at the time) several times and enjoyed many short courses related to administration.  I contemplated applying for the National Certificate in Business after my second child, but it was healing that interested me. 

After being told that I did not have the qualifications to attend Otago University to train toward becoming a physiotherapist, I decided to study biology and human anatomy via correspondence in order to meet the criteria for the nursing programme instead.

Was your study directly related to what you do now?

My strengths in administration and nursing have both contributed to my skills as a medical doctor.

Back then, there was not the support that students have now to assist them in planning their career. I started my medical career later in life, and working in the health system before attending medical school provided me with knowledge about broader aspects of health care.

Diane with her husband doing IronMāori

What would you like to share with young women who are thinking about their career choices right now?

If I could turn back time, I wish I had journaled my experiences.

All decisions are important turning points that come with pros and cons. The discomfort of leaving something familiar and taking on new adventures has been exciting and at times very compromising. 

Whānau have been integral to my journey, and when I was faced with adversity it was my whānau networks who were right there for me. 

Diana with her daughters on her wedding dayWhat are some of your career highlights so far?

A highlight for me is returning to the Tairāwhiti with my tohu as a Fellow of the Royal Australia New Zealand College of Psychiatrists.

Being able to share all the knowledge I have gained throughout my training, and to hold fast to my Ngāti Poroutanga, has allowed me to lead the change occurring in mental health in the Tairāwhiti.

Why do you believe engaging in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) is important to New Zealand?

My work focusses on the negative impact inequity for Māori has on New Zealand, so I believe that Māori children will only engage in STEM if it is offered in a meaningful and culturally relevant way.

The traditional way these subjects have been taught in education institutions has impacted on whether or not young people want to engage in these subjects. This has led to a lack of Māori engaging in places and spaces where important societal decisions are made.

We must all be sitting at the table and acknowledge that we all have important contributions to make in New Zealand Society. Achieving these qualifications are important in expanding the contribution to creative and innovative initiatives, as well as shifting our thinking about teaching the next generation in the same manner.  

Why is it important to have more women working in STEM?

Similarly to the issue with inequity for Māori, women have also been discriminated against.

My own mother recalls being told by her maths teacher at high school that he wasn’t going to waste his time with her because she was just going to go off and have children.  I’m a strong believer in being able to do both!  

I believe that women have a particular skill set regarding emotional intelligence, and that in itself is important when thinking about our relationships with the environment and about how to shape our future.

Diana with her husband on her wedding day

Diana (Ngāti Porou, Te Aitanga a Hauiti) is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Head of Department for Psychiatry at Hauora Tairāwhiti in Gisborne.  Diana is passionate about the utilisation of Māori knowledge systems in health as a way forward for the Tairāwhiti community.

This profile is part of our series of girls and women in STEM.

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