Career Transition from Surgical Technician to Health Coach: A Case Study

Maryann Cliffe’s journey in becoming a PREKURE certified Health Coach has certainly been unique. However, it is not simply a frustration with the healthcare system that makes her story different, as this is unfortunately a common theme in New Zealand. It is rather her background as a surgical technician that makes her career change stand out. The preventable pattern of chronic disease caused by poor lifestyle factors ignited a burning desire to help change behaviour rather than continue to be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.  A driving factor for this change was the knowledge that a holistic, integrated and person centred approach to health could help to prevent these surgeries from occurring in the first place. 

While it takes courage to learn, it takes bravery to act. Maryann’s story is more than meets the eye and is a testament to Desmond Tutu’s quote below.

“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”

Maryann grew up in the small Malaysian village located in Kuala Sungai of about 400 people. 

Watching her parents who are doctors that owned and operated a clinic within the village sparked Maryann’s passion for healthcare and she began studying medicine at the national University in Monash. 

Still deciding which path she wanted to take Maryann followed her fathers footsteps in the world of medical science for a few years before deciding to move to New Zealand to kick start her career. 

Despite being qualified, Maryann had difficulty in transferring her medical licence over to New Zealand because she had studied in Malaysia in the national language of Malay. Trying to overcome this barrier was problematic and she was made to sit examinations to prove her competence. Despite these measures New Zealand’s system would still not allow Maryanne to work at the level she was qualified to do so.  

Regardless she began working at Auckland Vascular to start her career as a surgical technician when the collision with covid made things even more difficult. 

The growing burden of chronic disease such as diabetes created a growing backlog of surgeries. Not only were these surgeries extremely expensive for the clients “around 40 to 50 thousand dollars to get treated”, but in many cases they simply did not fix the root cause of the problem.

These people were not learning how to take control of their own health and “a lot of them would not be having to go to surgery and chop a leg off, if they just changed their lifestyle habits”.

The sad reality for Maryann is that she is working with patients suffering from severe obesity when it is not even necessarily even their fault. It is easier than ever to be misguided by the food industry and led down a path without knowledge of where they are going. Furthermore, there is a misconception in New Zealand “that once you get it (chronic disease) you can’t change, and I think that’s wrong”.

“Indeed the road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,…” — C.S Lewis


A frustration born out of lived experience became a powerful catalyst for change. Ultimately, it had become clear to Maryann that “the main issues about our healthcare system all start from habits” and “there are other ways to help people and that’s what I want to do”. 

Although doctors and surgeons can get paid a lot more money than a health coach might, this did not deter Maryann as in her words “helping people is more rewarding than charging them a $5000 bill when the answer could be so simple for them”.

This prompted Maryann to begin studying health coaching with PREKURE. A key takeaway from this training was “that you can help someone without having to give them a solution or the answer”. Through dancing in the moment and navigating with the client to the right direction they can find the answer. Although Maryann admits this method of coaching stood in stark contrast to every instinct she had watching doctors and the medical system tell people what to do. 

Maryann now sees a clear need for health coaches in the future of medicine to relieve stress on a system under so much pressure and intensity. Coaches can help to connect a compartmentalised system that patients currently navigate with little guidance. 

At the moment it’s a vicious cycle where “pharmaceuticals benefit from medical companies, and medical companies benefit from clinics (that need medicine)”. “The model needs to change as a lot of people are not able to be treated with 15 minutes of consultation”

Maryann is not ruling out one day going back into surgery work and doing that but “for the moment I think there needs to be a voice, there needs to be a lot of loudness in the healthcare system so that we make an impact”.

You might be asking, so what is next for Maryann? 

Well as well as taking care of a one-year old, she is taking health coaching up as her new role. Maryanne is an example of being the change you want to see in the world and we are looking forward to hearing what she does next because we know it will be amazing.