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Hemi McKechnie

Hemi Profile_232pixCan you tell me a little bit about yourself and your background?

I have lived in Whangarei for most of my life with my family. I am the oldest of four sons in my family. One of my brothers, Arthur, is studying commerce here at the University of Otago, and another brother Hamish will likely come here next year too. I attended Kamo High School, where our school had a role of 1200 of which 50% were Māori. I was involved in many cultural events at school such as Manu Kōrero for two years and kapa haka as well. I enjoyed sciences at high school, especially Physics and also Maths, but English was by far my best and favourite subject.

On my mother's side I am from Motatau and my iwi are Ngāti Hine and Nga Puhi, and my hapū is Ngāti Tarewa. I have been brought up mainly on this side of my family and these are the iwi and hapu I mainly identify with. On my father's side I am from Pipiriki in the Whanganui region, my iwi here are Te Atihaunui a Pāpārangi and my hapū is Ngāti kura.

I am currently in third-year Pharmacy and love it.

What made you decide to do Pharmacy?

At high school I was a part of a programme called 'Incubator' where year 12 and 13 students were taken to the hospital by our school councillor once a month to hear talks from different health professionals, mainly doctors (boring). This however spurred me to want a career in health, and at this time I was not 100% sure on what I wanted to study exactly but knew which area I wanted to study in. So through this I was introduced to the Tū Kahika Scholarship Programme through an aunty of mine who works at Ngāti Hine Health Trust in Te Tai Tokerau. I applied and got in whoop!

My first year in the Tū Kahika Programme set me up well for Health Sciences and also was the year we were further exposed to many health professions and people in these areas.

One memorable night I remember was when we had an open evening in the Hunter Centre (at the University of Otago) where we had all the different professions set up, and in one of the booths we had a talk from Leanne Te Karu, a Pharmacist prescriber. It was awesome to see a Māori woman who was in the top of her field doing as I say some 'revolutionary things', making real contributions to Māori Health. From this night I decided that Pharmacy was definitely an option for me. Although chemistry was not an area I was strong in, I soon learnt that there was much more to Pharmacy than just that.

I also have many family members on medications back home and it annoyed me that they did not really know what these medications were for and why they should be taking them.

I once asked my Nan when I was younger what one of her meds was for and she replied that it was for her heart. The curiosity of what it did to her heart really got me thinking, now being in third year Pharmacy I realise that there is probably 100's of heart medications that do many different things and that the simple explanation my Nan gave me about her heart medication was simply not enough of an explanation, for her or for anyone taking a medication. Overall I want to help my iwi, hapū and whānau, and improve health outcomes for all.

What do you think are the specific benefits for Māori studying Pharmacy?

Pharmacy is an intense four-year degree. It is full on but it truly makes you think outside of the box and start to question many matters of health.

There are many support networks that we have as Māori Pharmacy students, your Māori peers are probably number one, and we can all feed off each other and help one another out. There is no competition between each of us because we all know that we are all working towards the same goal, to up skill ourselves and help our whānau.

We are also close to forming our Pharmacy Māori student association with just the decision of the official name left. The tutorials that the Māori Centre provide give us the extra boost we need to excel and do the best we can, also tutorials that Lisa Kremer at the pharmacy school organises helps too, we are fortunate to get some of the best tutors in the fields that we are studying.

The Māori Pharmacists' Association (MPA, Ngā kaitiaki o te Puna Rongoā) is a huge part of being a Pharmacy student as we have regular contact with them and an opportunity to go to the annual hui in Rotorua for all members, which is all paid for. Here we get to meet pharmacists in all different areas and get to make connections with people all over Aotearoa. We also are informed here on all the different and changing matters about Pharmacy as a whole. We also had the former President Wiremu Matthews come down last year and this year to catch up with us and see how we are going.

I suppose one of the biggest benefits is you are never alone and there are always people willing to help you through the degree, we are not here battling alone.

What did you know about Pharmacy before you started your BPharm?

I really only knew Pharmacy before entering the BPharm as the people who worked at a 'chemist', the place you go to collect your medicines the doctor prescribed you or where Mum and Nana went to go get their over-priced make-up and hair dyes from.

Once I came to the University I learnt a lot more about what Pharmacy was and that there is so much more than just community pharmacy (the 'chemist'), although this is a great place to work as you are working in what they call the primary healthcare sector, people are more likely to come to you for advice first as the doctors can be too expensive and they probably are just going to send you on your way anyway.

There is so much more research (e.g. formulating new drugs, and testing for side effects) that you can go into where you can specialise in areas that you are interested in (e.g. cardiovascular drugs and procedures), there is also postgraduate studies where you can go on to become a clinical pharmacist, or a pharmacist prescriber. You could even end up working for Pharmacy under the government and help decide where medication funding should go and what drugs should be funded or not.

Where do you hope a career in Pharmacy will take you?

I would really like to work in a hospital pharmacy setting and work with some of the more high-risk patients that need more care. I think that this would be a good area to work in as this is where the action is and you get to do as I say some 'real mahi'.

Why did you choose Otago?

I choose Otago as I liked the lifestyle for students here, and also coming from the north I wanted to see more of Aotearoa and what better place than Dunedin? Even though it's cold, it is a pretty cool place to live and study in! I think when tossing up between Dunedin and Auckland, Dunedin had more to offer me.

What are the best things about being a Pharmacy student at Otago?

Good sized classes, good like-minded people that help you out. Lecturers that are the top in their field so you know you are getting the best and most up to date information in Pharmacy.

The Otago Pharmacy Students' Association offers some pretty cool events and functions throughout the year that are well placed around our timetable.

Do you have any plans for your internship?

Not as yet, hopefully somewhere in the North Island so I can be closer to home, but as of yet no plans but I am pretty open to anything.

If you could talk to your first-year self, what piece of advice would you give?

Study hard and it will all work out for you. Chin up, you will get there. Also don't start drinking coffee; it will become your most costly addiction.