The University of Otago is set to graduate its largest number of Māori health professionals, with the graduating cohort hitting triple digits for the first time.
While students are currently awaiting their final exam results, it's expected the 2021 cohort will climb beyond 100 by the end of the academic year. Spearheading this growth is a medical graduand cohort of more than 60 – the largest number of Māori doctors to graduate in any one year.
The 2021 class is the latest in a long crop of fruits borne from a 12-year partnership between the Ministry of Health and the University's Māori Health Workforce Development Unit.
The Unit's Co-Director, Zoe Bristowe (Ngā Puhi, Ngāti Porou), says there has been a stark rise in the number of students that have flourished as a result.
“The partnership has supported us to drive a strategy enabling the university to reach this number of graduates across the eight undergraduate health professional programmes.
“It is incredibly significant, we have outstanding students across all the professions who are committed to making a difference to Māori health in NZ, and they are much needed. Increasing the diversity of the health workforce benefits all New Zealanders, including those with the greatest health needs.”
One of the students who has finished his studies is Dr Kenny Hau (Taranaki, Te Ati Awa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa). Being part of such a significant number of fellow Māori doctors will make a meaningful difference in practices around the country, he says.
“Being a part of this cohort means we've got some people alongside us who share some of the same struggles, appreciate each other's backgrounds and therefore appreciate the backgrounds that some of our patients come from.”.
At 33, Dr Hau made a switch to the Health Sciences programme after spending time working in Māori health.
With an absence of in-person graduations and Māori pre graduation ceremonies taking place due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, Dr Hau is preparing to return to his hometown of Taranaki to work as a doctor.
“We know the state of Māori health is pretty average compared to the rest of New Zealand and that was a big motivator of mine. That stuff keeps you going, especially when you hear that they want you to come back and help in the community.”
For new physiotherapy graduand Rian Sanarive (Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa ki Kawerau), the opportunity to work in her hometown of Kawerau was the end of a goal she started her studies with.
“I've come back to Kawerau, and remembered why I started this journey which was to serve my own community. It's quite funny walking in when you're on placement and they get a fright to see you,” she says.
“For aspiring Māori tauira, just try and remember what you're doing it for. It will always work out.”
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