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UC graduate overcomes challenges to complete PhD

28 March 2024

Passionate about public health, Dr Fazeela Mohamed Ellwood has overcome a debilitating injury and a global pandemic to complete her PhD in Health Science at UC.


Arriving in New Zealand from the Maldives in 2018 with plans for hiking and exploring New Zealand while studying at Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC), Dr Ellwood suffered an accident that led to invasive surgeries and temporarily affected her ability to walk.

“UC provided a very supportive environment, which made it very easy for me to complete my studies. They also supported me to try different angles in my research which was a good learning curve.” 

Drawing on parallels between access to primary healthcare in Aotearoa New Zealand’s remote communities and access for remote communities in the Maldives, Dr Ellwood says she chose UC because of its exceptional reputation in delivering world-class education, particularly in the field of healthcare research. Her PhD research topic was: Access to primary healthcare and ambulatory care sensitive hospitalisations in the Maldives.

“The University's well-established healthcare research programmes and its Health Faculty's expertise in primary healthcare access and outcomes significantly align with my research interests.

“While New Zealand's geographical similarity to the Maldives, being an island nation surrounded by the sea, offered me a comforting sense of familiarity and a conducive environment for my studies.”

Despite her rocky start, Dr Ellwood visited the Maldives to set up the data collection process for her study. Four days into this trip, New Zealand announced that borders were closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She established teams for data collection and returned to New Zealand just before the border closed. With the help of her team on the ground in the Maldives, she went on to conduct 806 interviews online, all during the night due to time zone differences.

Dr Ellwood says the success of her PhD was dependent on a lot of people. “There were many times that I felt like giving up but the support and mentorship from my supervisory team, other UC staff members and family and friends was instrumental in completing my PhD.”

After graduation, Dr Ellwood plans on working in the public health sector in New Zealand focusing on non-communicable disease prevention.

“I want to do something great for the country that has given me a lot. New Zealand has provided me with far more than I could ever give back, including a second chance to walk again, which has significantly improved my quality of life.”

Dr Ellwood will be taking part in UC’s upcoming autumn graduation celebrations at Wolfbrook Arena. 

Read more of our graduate success stories here.

sdg 4 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 - Quality education.

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