Red X iconGreen tick iconYellow tick icon
Friday 6 December 2019 2:48pm

Oripa Waqa image
Oripa Waqa, who graduates 7 December, will be the first female oral surgery specialist in the Pacific Islands.

When Oripa Waqa returns to Fiji after graduation she will be the first female oral surgeon specialist in not only Fiji but in the wider Pacific Islands.

Ms Waqa is graduating with a Doctor of Clinical Dentistry, in which she majored in oral surgery, on 7 December. She will then return to Fiji to her undergraduate alma mater Fiji National University to work.

Similarly to at Otago, Fiji National University's College of Medicine, Nursing & Health Sciences, is located beside a teaching hospital in Suva.

“I just love New Zealand. Working at the hospital and then the University you just have such good support.”

Three years ago Ms Waqa came to New Zealand as a part of the New Zealand Scholarship programme, which are offered to citizens from developing countries to study at a New Zealand education institution or university or at a Pacific university.

“Coming to New Zealand the biggest culture shock was the cold weather. Now when I go home I struggle in the heat,” she says.

After completing her undergraduate studies, she decided to apply to Otago to pursue her dream career but the path to oral surgery was not always a clear cut one.

She initially was torn between whether she would pursue medicine or dentistry, opting for dentistry because she thought it might give her a better work/life balance.

Something she realised was not quite true – especially when she would be called in to work in the middle of the night during the cold Dunedin winter.

“It's a hassle trying to get used to it but I'd never change it for anything else. I enjoyed every bit of it.”

While she may have been uncertain when she decided on her career path – she would not change the decision for the world.

“I just love New Zealand. Working at the hospital and then the University you just have such good support.”

Oral surgery is the “adrenaline rush speciality”, she says. One day you could be dealing with mouth cancer and the next you are helping to correct facial trauma after an accident.

The speciality is predominantly a male-dominated field, and while being the first woman to specialise in the Pacific Islands is a big deal to Ms Waqa her main focus is on improving the quality of dental care in her country.

“Since I've learnt so much from here I would like to go back home and share the knowledge and do my best to upgrade not only the skills, but the equipment and the instruments we work with.

“My eyes were really opened when I saw the technology here. There's a vast difference.”

She hopes to set up a clinic in Fiji modelled on those she has seen in New Zealand, which will be able to deliver high quality dental care and oral surgery to her community.

Subscribe to Otago Connection

Subscribe to the Otago Connection e-newsletter or send us your feedback on this issue.

Back to top