A boost in Māori doctors

By Lynette Amoroa

The largest number of Māori medical students in New Zealand's history graduated from the University of Otago this week.

Forty-five Māori medical students will now contribute to the growing numbers of Māori in the medical workforce by almost twenty percent.

Professor Peter Crampton, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Division of Health Sciences and Dean, University of Otago Medical School said New Zealand's medical workforce is on the verge of some rapid and very exciting changes in both the number and proportion of Māori doctors. "Maori people and communities have not seen their faces reflected in the health system in the medical side of things in particular, thus far."

The milestone continues a legacy created by the University of Otago over a century ago when Te Rangi Hiroa graduated in 1904 as the first Māori doctor to graduate from a New Zealand university.

But it was Sir Maui Pomare who became the first Māori doctor after graduating in the USA, 1898. Today, Māori doctors make up 3 percent of the workforce.

Anika Tiplady of Ngāi Tahu says it’s now time for her to give back to her greatest supporters. "I think the fact that there are so many Maori doctors that are graduating this weekend means we can really contribute to helping the outcomes of our people."

Māori doctors continue to be under-represented compared to the proportion of Maori in the New Zealand population. But the medical class of Otago 2016 shows a new future.

Merryn Wilson-Van Duin of Taranaki says the increase of graduates shows a willingness to make a difference in the Māori communities.  

"We have whanau when they're at the hardest point of their lives and struggling, it's nice to have a Maori face in the operating room it can be such a scary time, and understanding that your surgeon or the person putting you to sleep or even the junior doctors that are on the ward are able to relate and engage with your whanau."

Most of the graduates shared a similar story of struggle and hard work. Studying while pregnant didn't deter Jade Hollis-Moffatt of Ngāti Porou from pursuing the medical field, now with a bachelor of medicine and a bachelor of surgery she feels equipped to make a difference for her iwi.

“We are very lucky to have some very strong and collaborative researchers based in the north of Gisborne, a very strong work ethic and strong work ethic and a very community driven spirit. So, I'm sure Ngāti Porou hauora is in very safe hands and the research is on-going and as far as the health of the people there, i think it can only be enhanced by what it happening today”.

For the first time at Otago University Māori representation within the total number of medical graduates equates to the proportion of Māori in the New Zealand population.  "It's important because when people are sick or vulnerable they need to see health care professional that they can relate to and that have a shared experience." Professor Crampton said.

The graduates of Otago Medical school will join increased numbers also graduating from Auckland University. Together they will grow the Māori medical workforce by almost twenty percent.