05 December 2013

The Chair’s Award is the NZMA’s highest honour. It is the NZMA's recognition of individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the health of New Zealand.

This year's award was presented by NZMA Chair Dr Mark Peterson to a man who is forthright in speaking out for the most vulnerable in our society – Children’s Commissioner Dr Russell Wills.

Russell started his five year term as Children’s Commissioner in July 2011, combining that role with his work as a paediatrician at Hawke’s Bay District Health Board. 

"Children’s Commissioner is an independent statutory role," said Dr Peterson. "Russell is there to advocate for those who cannot always speak for themselves, and to ensure their voices are heard. Through speaking out against and highlighting New Zealand’s record of violence in the home, child poverty, abuse and neglect, Russell is making a difference for children."

After training at the University of Otago Medical School, Russell did his house surgeon years in Hawkes Bay at the Napier Hospital.

"As a GP in Napier, this was my first introduction to Russell," said Dr Peterson, "and it was already obvious that he would go on to make his mark in the NZ health sector." Russell then studied paediatrics overseas and gained a Master of Public Health degree in Brisbane.

Returning to New Zealand, he worked as national paediatrician for Plunket, as a senior lecturer at the Wellington School of Medicine and as a community paediatrician at Wellington Hospital before moving back to his home town in Hawke’s Bay in 2001. 

Russell’s clinical interests are in general paediatrics, child protection and children with severe behaviour disturbance. He sees many children with autism, ADHD, foetal alcohol effects, and the behavioural and developmental effects of abuse and neglect.

In Hawke’s Bay, he led the development of the Family Violence Intervention Programme, Before-School Check Programme and Child and Youth Mortality Review Committee. Both the Family Violence Programme and the Before School Check Programme have been viewed as national exemplars. He has also been involved in the Ministry of Education Positive Behaviour for Learning Programme implementation, Incredible Years strategic group and the Youth to Men governance group.

Russell has also held leadership roles in community paediatrics with the Paediatric Society of New Zealand and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, and has contributed to national guidelines and projects on autism, family violence, child abuse and medical aspects of children in Child, Youth and Family care.

Russell is married with two sons. "I am very pleased that his wife Mary was able to be with us at the presentation," said Dr Peterson. "The Children’s Commission is a big undertaking but Russell still manages a clinical commitment and could not do this without the support of his family.

"In making this Chairman’s Award, NZMA recognises Russell - and also his family."