Dunedin GP Dr Katharine Wallis will graduate from the
University of Otago today with a PhD, which focuses on
better protecting patients. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Dunedin general practitioner Dr Katharine Wallis becomes
''doctor doctor'' today when she graduates from the University
of Otago with a PhD to add to her earlier Otago medical
Her PhD, in general practice and rural health, focuses on
aspects of fostering a ''culture of safety'' to better
She was ''very happy'' to be graduating today, among about
270 graduands, in a 1pm ceremony at the Dunedin Town Hall.
Improving patient safety in primary medical care involved, in
some cases, quite simple things such as avoiding the storage
of different medications with similar-looking packets beside
each other in a refrigerator, she said yesterday.
A niece of retired Wanaka aviator and businessman Sir Tim
Wallis, Dr Wallis has been practising at the Waverley Health
Centre with her husband, Dr Paul Johns, for the past 20
Most New Zealand doctors were trying ''to help, or at least
do no harm'' - as contained in the Hippocratic Oath - but
thousands of patients were harmed by treatment every year,
Her research findings suggested that New Zealand's system of
no-fault compensation for treatment injury - instead of a
more punitive approach - supported the development of a
culture of safety by ''engendering openness about medical
''We just need to make the most of the system that we've
developed,'' she said.
It was not easy to change people's attitudes, but a culture
of safety was ''important for protecting patients from
She had adapted to New Zealand conditions a ''safety culture
tool'' developed in Manchester, and its use was supported by
New Zealand's medical regulatory structure.
This procedural tool could be used in general practices to
''strengthen safety culture'' by educating practice staff and
''facilitating team communication''.