Team profiles

Healthy Start Professional Development project team

Anne McLean
General Manager, Conectus

Anne has over 30 years' experience in the health sector, prior to working at Conectus she held positions as Director of Health for Niue, Chief Operating Officer, General Manager of Health Services, and Quality and Risk Manager at Wairarapa. Anne is passionate about improving all aspects of health and wellbeing, enjoying her work at Conectus and seeing the positive impact research has on improving service delivery.

Susan Miller
Project Lead and Healthy Conversation Skills trainer 


Susan is the project lead and Healthy Conversation Skills trainer for the project. 

She has managed the overall development, consultation and stakeholder engagement process. She works closely with the Ministry of Health, Conectus and UniServices management, as well as supporting and managing the project team.

She has previously worked as a project manager and team manager for the NZ Guidelines Group, Auckland Regional Public Health Services (ARPHS), Mission Australia (residential facility for homeless women) and other NGOs in Auckland, as well as being a skills trainer for the Certificate in Small Business Management course at University Te Wananga o Aotearoa. Susan trained as a lawyer.


Mary Cavanagh
Project Manager and Healthy Conversation Skills trainer 


Mary is the Healthy Start Workforce project manager and a Healthy Conversation Skills trainer. She supports the team to plan and deliver project outputs on time, within budget and to an excellent standard; leads the reporting process to ensure transparent accountability to the Ministry of Health; and works with the team to roll out programmes and deliver training. 

She has previously worked as a Liggins Institute Clinical Trials project manager, Growing Up in NZ research manager, ADHB planning and funding project manager, Health Foundation UK Safer Clinical Systems programme manager, and Royal College of Psychiatrists UK Mental Health Prescribing project manager. Mary has an MA in Psychology. 


Liz Nash
Healthy Conversation Skills trainer

Liz is an experienced midwife and lactation consultant who has also worked as a midwifery educator.

She's based in Marlborough and facilitates Healthy Conversation Skills workshops in the South Island and lower North Island.

She's passionate about Healthy Conversation Skills and the way the workshop enables health practitioners to be more effective.


Anne-Maree Therkleson
Healthy Conversation Skills trainer

Anne-Maree hails from Nelson and has worked extensively with Victim Support as a youth justice co-ordinator, a volunteer trainer and a manager.

She’s also lead a team supporting homeless women for Mission Australia and more recently has followed her passion and works as a dance teacher.  

Anne-Maree is inspired by the Healthy Conversation Skills philosophies and the way they enable practioners to explore clients’ needs effectively in a short time frame.

Deirdre Nielsen
Healthy Conversation Skills trainer

Deirdre is a dietitian at Counties Manukau Health and a research dietitian with a clinical trial which aims to improve the health of mothers and babies in South Auckland.

Deirdre believes Healthy Conversation Skills can be extremely powerful and helps clients to identify changes they want make.  

Deirdre enjoys sharing her skills and knowledge with health workforces in South Auckland.

Deborah Baker
Marketing and Communications Manager


Deborah is the Healthy Start Professional Development Communications Manager. She is responsible for all marketing and communications activity, website content and media relations. 

She is a trained marketing specialist with over 10 years experience in this field. Deborah has extensive experience providing communications services to private and not-for-profit organisations in New Zealand, and is passionate about translating science to make postive change within the community.

Eseta Nicholls
Healthy Conversation Skills trainer

Eseta works at the Counties DHB as a Community Health Worker. She also juggles various roles alongside Community Midwives with babies at risk. Research under the University of Auckland, Healthy Mums and Babies programme. Prior to that Eseta worked as a nurse.

Eseta sees Healthy Conversations training as an effective way forward to improving relationships and better outcomes for both Oractitioner, as well as the service.  

Dina Sharp
Project Co-ordinator


Dina manages all the behind the scences of Healthy Start. From programme enrolments to our regular seminars.

She trained as a legal secretary in the UK before moving into personal assistant roles.  She has worked for the The University of Auckland's School of Nursing before moving to the Healthy Start Professional Development team.

Project Advisory Group

Healthy Start Workforce Programme developers

Dr Wendy Lawrence
Healthy Conversation Skills developer and trainer

Dr Wendy Lawrence is a research psychologist at the MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit at the University of Southampton in the UK.  She has a particular interest in translating research observations into activities to bring about behaviour change to improve population health. 

As part of the Southampton Initiative for Health, she and colleagues developed the original Healthy Conversation Skills training programme.  The aim of the programme is to change staff practice to empower patients / clients to improve their lifestyles, in particular diet and physical activity levels.

Wendy supported the adaptation of this programme for the New Zealand context.  She delivered the adapted training programme, with our New Zealand trainers to workforce groups throughout the country from 2014 to 2016. 


Jackie Gunn
Developer of the Healthy Start Workforce online education programme

Jackie originally developed the Healthy Start Education Programme and occassionally delivers a one-day face-to-face education day.

Jackie was the Head of Midwifery at AUT University for more than 20 years and has more recently worked as a senior lecturer in the AUT Midwifery Department.

She has more than 30-years of experience in midwifery education and practice.

Jackie is a foundation and life member of the New Zealand College of Midwives, and is the college’s national education consultant.


Dr Anne Jaquiery
Senior Academic Advisor

Academic oversight of the project was provided by Dr Anne Jaquiery.

Anne is a consultant paediatrician at Rotorua Hospital. She completed her PhD at the Liggins Institute investigating the effects of undernutrition around the time of conception on the mother's pregnancy and the health of her offspring.

She has ongoing research interests in neonatal and paediatric nutrition including the long-term consequences of altered nutrition and irregular eating patterns in early life, the treatment of intrauterine growth restriction and preterm birth and its consequences.

Anne has had joint research and clinical appointments with the Liggins Institute, the Department of Paediatrics (University of Auckland) and Lakes District Health Board.


Dr Caroline Gunn
Research Fellow 

Caroline was a research fellow for the Healthy Start Workforce Project and the Southampton MRC impact evaluation.

She was responsible for the literature review that underpins the online education programme and assisted with the development of the same programme. 

She is a New Zealand-registered nutritionist and was previously an assistant lecturer at Massey University. She has a PhD in nutrition involving increased intake of fruit and vegetables (9 plus a day) and dietary behaviour-change strategies.

Caroline has had widespread experience in conveying healthy nutrition messages to a range of audiences. Her passion is to promote optimal nutrition during pregnancy and childhood.




Other advisors and colleagues

We are grateful for the supportive relationships and advice we receive from organisations including:

  • Cogo Consulting
  • Tipu Ora 
  • Toi Tangata 
  • TAHA Pacific Parenting 
  • Health Promotion Agency 
  • Healthy Families NZ 
  • Women's Health Network 
  • Agencies for Nutrition Action
  • Well Child/Tamariki Ora Network 
  • LENScience 
  • Baby Friendly Community Initiative (BFCI) Coordinators.

Ministry of Health Maternal & Child Nutrition and Physical Activity Providers including:

  • Healthy Babies, Healthy Futures (ADHB, WDHB, The Fono, HealthWest, The Asian Network Inc, Chinese New Settlers Trust, NIHI)
  • Health4Life (Wellington Partnership)
  • Hawke's Bay DHB and Sports Hawke's Bay
  • Sport Waikato and Under 5 Energise
  • Counties Manukau DHB
  • Taranaki Mama and Pepe service (Tui Ora).

We are also proud to work with:

  • COGO Consulting
  • The Liggins Institute 
  • The MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit at the University of Southampton.

This project would not be possible without the support of our foundation partners below.

Our Partners

Barbara Lusk
Ministry of Health 

Judith Hammond
Auckland Uniservices

Susan Miller
Auckland Uniservices

Mafi Funaki-Tahifote
Heart Foundation and Pacific Heartbeat 

Anne Jaquiery, Chair

Karen Magrath

Helen Connors

Lesley Dixon
NZ College of Midwives

Isis McKay
Women’s Health Action Trust 

Purvi Chhiachhia
Indo-Asian Community Representative

Leonie Matoe
Toi Tangata 

Partners logo Aug 2015