Improve and promote the health of mothers and babies

03 August 2020

An internationally renowned obstetrician, Professor Lesley McCowan, CNZM, has worked tirelessly to improve and promote the health of mothers and babies.

“I really enjoyed science, I loved biology,” Professor McCowan says when asked about the decision to pursue a career in medicine. “It just seemed like the obvious career pathway.

“Everyone says they want to help other people, and for me that was a factor as well.

“And I received great support from some excellent role models at school and then again when I got to medical school I received very good mentoring and support from clinicians and academics in the department of obstetrics and gynaecology.

“I liked the combination of medicine and surgery, and the ability to make a difference in the lives of mothers and their babies.”

Distinguished career

A member of Te Kāhui Oranga ō Nuku, Professor McCowan is a sub-specialist in Maternal Fetal Medicine who became Head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Auckland in 2009. In 2011 she received a New Year’s Honour (Officer of New Zealand Order of Merit) for services to health and in 2016  received an additional New Year’s Honour (Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit) .

Her clinical work is in high risk pregnancy especially preeclampsia, fetal growth restriction and stillbirth . For many years she has chaired the National Women’s Hospital perinatal mortality review process. She was a founding member of the NZ National Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee, which reports annually on perinatal and maternal  mortality in New Zealand.

She led the Auckland Stillbirth Study that reported for the first time that women who went to sleep lying on their back from 28 weeks of pregnancy had an approximate three-fold increase in risk of late stillbirth. These research findings were then confirmed in a New Zealand wide study, an Australian study and an international individual participant data meta-analysis.

This led to the nation-wide campaign called Sleep on Side; Stillbirth Prevention Campaign.

She has more than 200 peer reviewed publications and has presented at many international conferences during her career.

“Follow your passion,” Professor McCowan replies when asked what her advice would be to trainees or new Fellows starting out their careers in obstetrics and gynaecology.

“Do what you love and think about how you will get to your end result.”

She has a special message for female members. “Women in obstetrics and gynaecology can achieve just as well as their male counterparts. Some women may get frustrated because it may take a bit longer as they may have to take time out of the workforce due to family commitments, but they need to keep that work/life balance and keep focused on the end result.”

Te Kāhui Oranga ō Nuku and He Hono Wāhine

Professor McCowan says these committees have an important role to play advocating for improved equity in women’s health in New Zealand. “I am really proud of the work that is being done with an overarching focus on reducing inequities.”
“We have outstanding people on these New Zealand committees; great role models and highly-respected members of the profession.”

She adds: “I would urge trainees and Fellows to become engaged with the College, if you really want to make a difference for women, mothers and whānau and support your colleagues, then this is an ideal opportunity.”

Enjoying the outdoors

Along with spending time with her family, Professor McCowan rattles off some outdoor activities when asked what she enjoys outside of work: gardening, boating, fishing, paddle boarding, and cycling. “We certainly enjoy our New Zealand  life-style outside of medicine,” she says.

Professor McCowan loves fishing



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