Liz Smythe


Professor of Healthcare Practice
School of Clinical Sciences

What is the meaning within our experiences of life? This question lies at the heart of Professor Liz Smythe’s work.

An experienced hermeneutic researcher, she has sought to unveil the subjective experiences of patients and health professionals, to enhance healthcare practice and enable better outcomes for people in the community.

Professor Smythe trained as a nurse and later a midwife, in an era when learning through experience was the norm. She went on to gain a PhD, exploring the meaning of being safe in childbirth and drawing on the philosophies of Heidegger and Gadamer.

Hermeneutic phenomenology has remained a constant throughout her career since, and she has collaborated with numerous colleagues and students to establish one of the world’s most active hermeneutic research communities at AUT.

She has supervised a large body of postgraduate research over the past 20 years, most using hermeneutic methodology, and has taught students across all health fields. Through the hermeneutic approach, her students have learned to appreciate the commonality of their work – the simple element of human encounter – and to collaborate more effectively with professionals from other disciplines.

“The human experience in healthcare – that aspect of the story is often silent,” she says. “I love it when we break those silences, breaking down barriers and improving care in the process.”

Professor Smythe has also played a seminal role in advancing healthcare education. She was instrumental in establishing midwifery as a specialist degree in 1987 and, more recently, in writing AUT’s Doctor of Health Science (DHSc) curriculum.

Through the Doctor of Health Science programme she has endeavoured to speed up the translation of research into practice, which typically suffers from a 17 year time lag and is an issue she is passionate about.

“What really matters is not the numbers or measures produced through research, but rather what impacts real people in real places,” she says.

Professor Liz Smythe's extended academic profile.