Karina McHardy

Dr Karina McHardy is an Independent Consultant and the former Head of Health Intelligence and Insights at New Zealand’s ACC. She has worked with the World Health Organisation, helped establish a national public health programme in the Channel Islands and in 2020 she was finalist in the New Zealand Women of Influence Awards.

Few people can claim to begin their OE at 12, and without their parents.

Home schooled, a talented gymnast and ballet dancer, Karina McHardy began her OE well before most of her peers had even heard of the term.

She represented New Zealand in artistic gymnastics - winning national titles and placing fifth in her age group at the 1992 World Tumbling Championships. She then lived in Australia between 1993 and 1996 to pursue training opportunities in gymnastics and ballet. She spent a further three years living in Germany as a professional dance student. Karina has since coached gymnasts across different ages and levels, including elite.

“Participating in elite sports you have such an awareness of your own physicality. You are constantly learning about nutrition, the importance of sleep, your mental wellbeing and a range of other issues related to your physiology.”

Karina graduated top of her class from the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences in 2006. In 2008, she moved to the UK to pursue an MSc in Global Health at the University of Oxford as a Commonwealth and Clarendon Scholar. After her masters, Karina undertook doctoral research through Oxford’s Department of Public Health as a Clarendon, Wolfson, and Departmental Scholar. For her doctorate she researched childhood obesity and international public health surveillance systems.

“The opportunities afforded to me at the University of Oxford gave me the gift of high expectations as well as an amazing network of gifted, bold, thoughtful, and world-changing people who are positioned across the globe.”

Other notable international achievements include working with the World Health Organisation, and publishing in areas such as health leadership, population medicine, health system design, quality and safety, and global health.

Karina has also been involved in a wide range of health leadership roles including most recently four years with ACC – initially appointed as the Chief Executive’s Principal Advisor for Health before taking up the Health Intelligence and Insights role in 2018.

“One of the few things in life that we can predict is unpredictability. I was supposed to be a paediatric neurologist right about now! Life took me in a different direction and through those opportunities I’ve been extremely privileged to develop networks and knowledge that are better applied to a less traditional career path. It felt important to do that.”

There is one other experience Karina acknowledges had a significant impact on her life.

“While I did not necessarily recognise it at the time, the people and patients that I worked with while on my medical elective in South Africa had a huge impact on me. “This exposure taught me that most healthcare is provided outside of medical settings; indeed, most of what impacts health sits external to what we would consider to be the ‘health sector’. These learnings have shaped my thinking and decisions ever since my undergraduate years.”

Mentors have also played their part by being an ongoing sounding board in the background long after finishing as a medical student.

“Newton famously said, ‘If I have seen further, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants’.

“There are so many individuals that have generously shared their time and expertise to help shape and support my journey to this point but two in particular have been Professors Phillippa Poole and Des Gorman. Both have been wonderful mentors and sponsors since my time at medical school and these relationships continue to this day.” Karina also acknowledges the important role her parents have played in her success, particularly her mother who passed away in 2020.

“They taught me to dream big, to be relentlessly curious and embrace different thinking, to consider impacts from multiple angles, and that something worth doing is worth doing well.”

Take 10 Podcast: Karina McHardy and Andrew Patterson; From South Africa to ACC – Towards a Better Health System

Hear from University of Auckland 40 Under 40: Humanitarian Karina McHardy on her health profession journey, designing a better health system and four tips for success.