Pacific health promoter turned doctoral researcher awarded HRC Fellowship

He’s been a literal ‘posterboy’ for the University of Canterbury (UC), Les Mills, ChristchurchNZ, All Right? and Covid-19 vaccination campaigns – now UC doctoral student Suli Tuitaupe’s passion for wellbeing and health equity has earned him a research fellowship to improve health outcomes for Pacific people.

Having earned a Bachelor of Health Sciences in Physical Activity Promotion and Public Health and a Master of Health Sciences degree with an endorsement in Nursing from the University of Canterbury, Suli Tuitaupe is now studying towards a Doctor of Health Sciences (DHSc) degree, researching how to improve health outcomes and achieve health equity for Pacific communities in Aotearoa New Zealand.

An outstanding health promoter and award-winning fitness instructor, Suli became famous for dancing to Island beats during the pandemic with 100,000 people watching his videos on social media. Now the registered nurse has been awarded with a Health Research Council (HRC) 2023 Pacific Clinical Training Fellowship to support his Pacific health research, worth $168,411 over 36 months. His research project is titled ‘Understanding the worldview of health from a Samoan New Zealander’s perspective’.

“My goals in this research project are inspired by two themes: the health status of Pacific people is inferior to that of non-Pacific people because their needs are not met by the current health system; and while Pacific health models promote holistic wellbeing, limited research makes it impossible to determine whether these measures are effective in practice,” he says.

Suli plans to use the Talanoa Pasifika research methodology in a focus group setting to fully comprehend the health and worldview of Pacific communities, particularly Samoans born in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“These research findings will inform changes in practice and in the health system regarding the significance of recognising Pacific worldviews, identity, culture, and ethnicity as essential to health and wellbeing, consequently fostering a sense of belonging for Pacific communities in Aotearoa New Zealand.”

This is his latest accomplishment among many. He was bestowed the matai (high chief) title ‘Vui’ from the village of Leauva’a in Samoa earlier this month.

As a UC undergraduate student, Suli received multiple awards, winning a Ministry of Health Pacific Academic Scholarship, an Aniva Scholarship, a Pegasus Health Pacific Scholarship, and a Health Research Council Summer Studentship for his contribution to the Pasifika health community. He has also been a UC mentor, a tutor, and received a number of UC Pacific Achievers Awards for his high grades.

A practice nurse at Eastcare Health, Chairperson of Moana Vā Navigators of Pacific Pride, and Team Lead of Clinical & Health Promotion for Tangata Atumotu Trust, Suli is also a popular fitness class instructor at Les Mills Christchurch, winning the 2021 Community Instructor of the Year Award from the New Zealand Exercise Industry.