Tāmaki Innovation Campus

Collaborative work provides intellectual horsepower for large health research projects

Dr Tim Tenbensel’s promotion to Associate Professor signals his long term commitment to the University and also consolidates his international collaborations and work.

From a self-confessed ‘stumble’ into healthcare, Dr Tim Tenbensel is doing rather well.

He teaches and researches health policy, and has been head of the Health Systems section in the School of Population Health at the University of Auckland since 2011; starting with Political Studies at the Faculty of Arts in 1997, before moving to Tāmaki in 2005.

Newly promoted as Associate Professor, Tim Tenbensel is looking to continue his research into health policy and public management.

However, he admits he moved into health policy almost by accident in the nineties, after leaving Griffith University where he had been researching and teaching public policy. “I knew I needed to develop a research profile, and I was looking at a government agency proposal for setting priorities in healthcare services which seemed fundamentally flawed, so that’s what got me interested in the area,” he says.

The environment of health policy has suited him and he’s delved deeply into the New Zealand health system and policy for the past 18 years. One work highlight has been the supervision of PhD projects examining implementation of government targets in areas such as emergency department waiting times and child immunisation.

International collaboration has also been a highlight, particularly working with colleagues in Canada on the integration of health services, and comparison between New Zealand and Denmark’s governance of primary care. He is currently one of ‘a cast of thousands’ working on a large Canadian-New Zealand project, called iCoach (Integrated Care for Older Adults with Complex Health Needs), led by Tim Kenealy.

Dr Tenbensel is also engaged in developing theoretical frameworks for understanding health policy and implementation, with a particular focus on relationships of accountability and collaboration between health sector organisations. “Recently I’ve become really interested in how health services are a complex system, and how large or small changes in one area may have unexpected positive and negative impacts on other parts of the system.”

He has recently spent five months on study leave in Canada and Denmark, returning with the contention that we are indeed doing something right as a country with our healthcare system.

“We’re doing some things here in New Zealand that other countries just talk about and hope to do. Where others really regard us as a leader is in our population based funding, our primary healthcare infrastructure. While New Zealand has not achieved everything it has hoped to, it is further along the road to a better, more integrated health system than most countries.”

Dr Tenbensel’s promotion signals his long term commitment to the University and also consolidates his international collaboration and work. The trick, he says, will be to find a true work-life balance which he believes to be critical in maintaining professional output.

One thing that helps him to achieve that balance is his long term involvement in the Jubilation gospel choir. The 33-strong vocal super group sings soul, blues and country-infused gospel at gigs around the country, from WOMAD to Arrowtown.