Whanganui District Health Board chief executive and national DHB spokeswoman Julie Patterson has stunned her colleagues with a resignation announcement.
After eight and a half years in the role, Mrs Patterson informed WDHB board members and senior staff on Friday that she had come to her decision following a great deal of "soul searching."
"She has decided the time is right for her to move on and hand the reins over to a new leader who she hopes she can meet and brief before her departure," said WDHB chairwoman Dot McKinnon.
Mrs McKinnon said she was "very sad" to see Mrs Patterson leave but she has "full faith" her skills would be put to good use in other areas of the health sector.
Mrs Patterson was appointed chief executive in 2008, replacing Memo Musa who resigned after the WDHB was condemned for inadequate background checks on surgeon Roman Hasil, responsible for numerous botched operations in 2005 and 2006.
A graduate of the Wanganui School of Nursing, she later obtained a BA and MBA. On her appointment in 2008 she said "Whanganui Hospital is where I began in the health sector.
"Now I am back here and very, very pleased to be here."
Several people the Chronicle spoke to yesterday were surprised at the news.
Former WDHB chairwoman Kate Joblin worked with Mrs Patterson since her appointment in 2008 until 2013.
"I will be sad to see Julie leave although I am confident that the progress made at WDHB will endure - thanks to the team that she has built around her" said Ms Joblin.
"Julie came to the DHB at a difficult time, and her passion for good health care and commitment to this community, has seen Whanganui DHB's national reputation go from strength to strength.
"I am hugely thankful for the time that Julie has spent in this role and wish her well."
Mrs McKinnon said the DHB's financial position has improved dramatically under Mrs Patterson's watch and gone from a deficit of $10 million nine years ago to being on budget in the last financial year.
Mrs McKinnon said having a leader with a strong nursing background as well as business acumen has been much appreciated by the WDHB's 900 plus staff.
As well as heading the DHB, Mrs Patterson was also a national spokesperson for District Health Boards and dealt with the resident doctors' strikes in October and January.
Mrs McKinnon said WDHB mental health services have transformed from a struggling service to one that is now held up as an example of best practice among New Zealand's 20 District Health Boards during Mrs Patterson's tenure.
She said the WDHB board is committed to ensuring that Mrs Patterson's replacement shares her values and demonstrates the same level of competence and commitment to the community.
The Chronicle could not reach Mrs Patterson for comment.