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Pounamu Keepa (Te Aitanga a Mahaki, Ngāti Ruanui, Tūhourangi, Ngāti Kahu) hopes a familiar face behind the pharmacy counter will help improve the trust between whānau Māori and the health system.

Pounamu graduates this weekend with a Bachelor of Pharmacy.

“A career in health has always been my goal, and throughout my years as a Pharmacy student, I have identified areas in the healthcare system that I can improve and change to suit our whānau better,” Pounamu says.

“Lots of our whānau are dealing with lots of different health challenges. They’re prescribed all these medications but sometimes don’t understand the importance of taking them or how they work.

“Things like having a kōrero with whānau and spending a couple of minutes with them to explain how they work and how the medication helps them will only help them to understand. Hopefully with that, they’ll be more likely to stick to their treatment plan.”

Being a Māori pharmacist will be “pretty special”, he says.

“It’s not often you see a Māori behind the counter at a pharmacy. I’m hopeful that a familiar face will improve whānau Māori trust with the health system and medication.”

Pounamu’s  commitment to  his study was recognised this year when he was awarded the Ngāti Ruanui Education Grant, the Paraninihi Ki Waitōtara Māori Land Trust Undergraduate Scholarship and Te Arawa Whānau Ora’s Ngaroma (Mala) Grant Memorial Scholarship.

“I’m always grateful for the support my people invest into me. The last year has been tough with rent increases, and kai down in Dunedin is expensive as,” Pounamu says.

“Without the support of the various scholarships, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to fulfill my aspiration of a career in health.”

His time at Otago has not been without its challenges, especially being away from family, but gaining the tohu (degree) makes it worth it, he says.

“There was definitely some hard times at university. It’s important to quickly get a good group together, and hold space for one another.

“But once out on the other side, the grind that comes along with the journey makes it all worthwhile. My tohu allows me to make a difference among my people; that’s something special.

“It’s mean to see plenty of Māori in health professional programmes. I’m looking forward to seeing tauira Māori out practicing in the hospital wards, dentists and pharmacies.”

Pounamu plans to spend some time in Denmark before starting his career in pharmacy later next year.

By Keanu Flavell

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