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Peter Sese and the village that rallied behind him

Tuesday 27 September 2022 1:33pm

Peter Sese image

Peter Sese is the first Samoan and just the second Pasifika student to be accepted into the highly competitive Doctorate in Clinical Dentistry (DClinDent) in Oral Surgery programme, but credits the support of others with his success.

The three-year specialty programme attracts over 20 applicants annually applying for the sole available spot. It involves a blend of clinical work, doctoral research and tutoring undergraduate students.

The DClinDent added a further three years’ worth of study for Sese, who completed his Bachelor of Dental Surgery in 2015 and Master of Rural Dentistry in 2021.

There were many factors to consider before he was convinced to keep on his study path.

“One of the biggest considerations for Pacific professionals is ‘if I do this, who is going to support me?’

“We need to know that we are going to be supported throughout our training, because this is time we could be using to provide for our families,” he says.

“In a Pacific family, it’s never about just the individual. So many things play a role and you have to think about all of that before you even consider yourself.”

Sese says the support of the then-Pacific Island Research and Student Support Unit (PIRSSU), now Va’a o Tautai – Centre for Pacific Health, was instrumental over the duration of his study at Otago.

“Faumuina Professor Fa’afetai Sopoaga and her team stepped in to find support for me, not just academically but also financially,” Sese says.

“I applied for support last year from various Pacific organizations, and only PIRSSU under the University came back to me and created a whole new master’s scholarship just so they could support me.

“It was $10,000, and it was enough to make me believe that people wanted me to pursue this role.”

Sese says that Faumuina Professor Sopoaga, Dr Xaviour Walker and Professor Darryl Tong supported his application for the Pacific doctoral scholarship.

“I figured with some funding to get me through the three years, I could convince my wife that this was a good idea, and that it would be worth the struggle,” he says.

Sese says he enjoys the clinical component of the course, which often involves being in the surgical theatre operating.

He says there is an elevated sense of responsibility as he progresses through his studies.

“If we don’t perform well in theatre, our bosses don’t look good. So that is something I’m mindful of,” he says.

Sese says he has also felt a sense of responsibility to advocate and be a role-model for Pasifika professionals and the Pacific peoples in Oral Health.

“In the Pacific realm, you need a bit of weighting behind what you say, so I knew in the back of my mind that to pursue leadership in this area, I needed the qualifications and experience to support me.

“When I was coming through undergrad, I don’t think there was an academic of Pacific heritage at the faculty, which is the same today.

“We need those role-models so that Pacific students can say ‘if he can do it, I can too’.”

In addition to completing his DClinDent, Sese is interested in re-establishing the Pacific Community Placement Programme after COVID-19 caused disruptions.

This programme, which he helped form during his bachelor’s degree, gives 5th year dental students the opportunity to complete a rotation in Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.

Sese expects to complete his DClinDent in 2024.