Team profiles

Healthy Start Professional Development 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 Facilitator


Susan initiated the programme in 2013, and continues to lead the team to deliver professional development training to health and wellbeing workforces, so they can better support positive health outcomes for their clients. With her colleague Mary Cavanagh, they not only adapted the Healthy Conversation Skills training for the New Zealand context, they also developed a train the facilitator programme.

She has worked in the community, health and law sectors for many years and has a personal interest in human behaviour and rapid transformational therapy. She became a certified RTT practitioner in November 2020.


Mary Cavanagh
Project Manager and Healthy Conversation Skills Facilitator 


Mary has managed the programme since 2014. She has previously worked as a Liggins Institute Clinical Trials Poject Maager, 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 and a strong interest in behaviour change and lifestyle medicine. 


Liz Nash
Healthy Conversation Skills Facilitator

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 Facilitator

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 Facilitator

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.

Dina Sharp
Programme Co-ordinator


Dina manages the programme from enrolments through to seminars.

She trained as a legal secretary in the UK before moving into personal assistant roles.  She has previously worked at the University of Auckland School of Nursing and formerly one of the University's Centre of Research Excellence, Gravida before moving to the Healthy Start Professional Development team.


Kait Slagter
Social Media Co-ordinator

Kait has over 9 years of experience elevating brands through strategic planning, graphic design, and social media marketing. Through her diverse experiences she has mastered the ins and outs of growing brand awareness and business opportunities. After honing and executing these specialties to reach numerous company achievements, Kait was invited to join the Healthy Start Professional Development team as Social Media Coordinator.  Now, she works as the Branding and Social Media Direcor of her company, Creative Appetite, as well as taking part in many other projects on a contract basis assisting businesses blossom and reach their full potential.


Sarah Cahill
Science and Medical Content Writer

Sarah is a freelance medical writer and joined the Healthy Start Professional Development team in 2020 as the content writer. She creates our quarterly Healthy Start e-newsletter and keeps up-to-date with the latest early years and behaviour change research.

Sarah worked as a paediatric nurse for 14 years before a career shift into writing, first working for a medical communications company and then founding Sayline Writing Solutions in 2018. She specialises in plain English medical and health writing and enjoys working for a range of clients.


Healthy Start past and present developers and collaborators 

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 developed the first iteration of the early-life science programme.

Jackie was the Head of Midwifery at AUT University for more than 20 years and also 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.


Dr Anne Jaquiery
Senior Academic Advisor

Academic oversight of the early-life science programme 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 programme and the Southampton MRC impact evaluation.

She was responsible for the literature review that underpins the early-life science education programme and assisted with the development of the same. 

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.




Thank you to the founding members of our Professional Advisory Group

Barbara Lusk
Ministry of Health

Susan Miller
MiCA Projects Ltd

Mafi Funaki-Tahifote
Pacific Heartbeat

Anne Jaquiery
University of Auckland 

Helen Connors

Lesley Dixon
NZ College of Midwives

Isis McKay
Women's Health Action Trust 

Purvi Chhiachhia

Leonie Matoe

Judith Hammond 
Auckland UniServices

Partners logo Aug 2015