Rise in Pasifika and Māori students in medical school to bring more diverse doctors

Pacific and General

Is there a Pasifika doctor in the house?

There will be soon as more students of Māori and Pacific Islands descent study in the medical field.

New University of Otago figures on the diversity of students enrolled in health programmes show that between 2010 and 2016, Māori students increased 124 per cent from 138 to 309 students.

During the same period, the number of Pasifika students increased from 57 to 126 students, a 121 per cent rise.

The figures, in today's New Zealand Medical Journal, cover students enrolled in health subjects and show significant increases in medicine and dentistry.

Professor Peter Crampton, of Otago's Division of Health Services, said good progress had been made in increasing diversity.

The report says moves were made about six years ago to connect more with diverse communities.

"In 2012, the University of Otago's Division of Health Sciences implemented a policy mechanism to ensure all of its health professional programmes produced graduates that would be equipped to meet the needs of society," the report said.

"Recognising that those needs were diverse, the Mirror on Society selection policy was developed to ensure that the student intake was diverse so that, as much as possible, it would reflect the ethnic and socioeconomic realities of the communities which students would go on to serve."

The migrant's dream realised

Among those students is Fuakava Tanginoa, a third-year medical student hoping to one day be a cardiologist.

The 25-year-old hails from a Tongan family in Palmerston North. She is one of eight children to migrant parents.

Her resume was impressive even before she had her sights on becoming a doctor. In 2013, she completed a nursing degree and three years later graduated as a Bachelor of Science.

She said her big goal was to help people - in particular, those who would appreciate having a Pasifika doctor.

"I'm really passionate about our Pacific Island people. I know that because there's a barrier of language and understanding the culture and our customs and all that, we are a vulnerable group when we are in the hospital," Tanginoa said.

"I think our culture and our values limit what we say, what we want and need from doctors. And then that's when our level of care differs from [Europeans], because we actually have other things that we worry about.

"It's not just the medical care. It's the holistic care. Being a voice for our people and just helping to better their care in hospital."

Tanginoa said it was encouraging seeing more brown faces in the classroom - the faces she hoped to see working in the medical field alongside her.

"I think that's super empowering. Even though it's not said, we know our common goal is to serve our people.''

She acknowledged that for many Pacific parents, who are migrants, seeing their children succeed was a dream come true.

"My dad worked at a lot of warehousing jobs and then Pak'nSave and then my mum was also the same and ended up doing caregiving the last few years that she was working.

"When your dad is quiet and all that - but bro, when he goes to kava [club], he tells everyone [I'm going to be a doctor]," she laughed.

"I'm like: 'Okay, settle down, I haven't graduated yet'."

The stats

• 124 per cent (138 to 309 students) increase in number of Māori students in health professional programmes, particularly in medicine and dentistry, between 2010 and 2016.

• 121 per cent (57 to 126 students) increase in Pasifika students in health professional programmes, particularly in medicine and dentistry, between 2010 and 2016.
- University of Otago

By: Vaimoana Tapaleao
Reporter, NZ Herald


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