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Friday 17 February 2023 9:11am

Cook Islands graduation Image
Time to celebrate… (from left) Dr Koko Lwin, Dr Kati Blattner and Dr Te Ariki Faireka at the graduation ceremony in Rarotonga.

With a father who worked in health administration in the Cook Islands, it's probably understandable Dr Te Ariki Faireka decided to study medicine.

“Because of my father's work I was around the hospital a lot as a child – it felt like a second home.”

Dr Faireka is the latest graduate of the Cook Islands Fellowship in General Practice, attending a graduation ceremony in Rarotonga in early February. He is also the Director of Primary Healthcare in the Cook Islands, working for Te Marae Ora, the Cook Islands Ministry of Health.

The fellowship is a Te Marae Ora initiative created in partnership with the University of Otago and the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners.

Dr Faireka says taking part in the fellowship programme enabled him to broaden his knowledge of medicine. It opened up a wealth of information that had been hard to access previously.

But there were plenty of challenges along the way.

The programme is a mix of distance-taught papers and New Zealand-based clinical practice. The in-person requirements, plus COVID-19 lockdowns, meant being separated from his family for months.

With the distance learning, technology was initially a challenge, especially during Zoom sessions when internet quality wasn't the best.

However, Dr Faireka says there were plenty of highlights too, such as discussing ideas on how to approach health issues with experts and peers from a wide range of different backgrounds.

“I also got to see different parts of New Zealand – I had never visited the South Island before.”

Dr Faireka says he will continue to focus on improving the health of the Cook Islands people and ensuring continued access to quality healthcare.

Also recognised at the February graduation ceremony was Dr Koko Lwin. Having previously completed the fellowship at the end of 2020, Dr Lwin went on to further postgraduate study.

He was recognised for completing the Otago Postgraduate Diploma in Rural and Provincial Hospital Practice (2021), as well as the Otago Postgraduate Certificate of Clinician Performed Ultrasonography (2022).

Dr Lwin, Te Marae Ora Hospital Health Services Chief Medical Officer, says the papers helped prepare him for daily life at a rural hospital.

“For my work in the medical department, the Cardiopulmonary paper and Medical Specialties papers were the most helpful papers for my daily practices.”

Some papers gave him a different perspective on situations such as palliative care and end-of-life conversations.

It was a challenge to balance working on a busy medical ward with the paper requirements. Completing some requirements was difficult as there are cases which are not usually seen on a medical ward. However, it was very rewarding to learn new skills that helped patients, such as how to perform echocardiograms.

“My intention is to share my knowledge and the practices learnt from the diploma and CPU courses with the healthcare workers in the Cook Islands as a part of our workforce development plan.”

University of Otago Associate Dean Pacific (Christchurch) Dr Kiki Maoate says, “I am so proud of our Cook Island doctors as they continue to successfully complete the fellowship programme.

“Congratulations Dr Faireka and Dr Lwin, your families and our people will be proud of your achievement. Your success and leadership will complement the Fellows preceding you as we continue to help improve the health outcomes for the people of the Cook Islands.”

Otago's Pacific Island Nation Liaison (Va'a o Tautai) Dr Kati Blattner, provides academic, clinical, and on-the-ground support for the doctors doing these postgraduate programmes.

Dr Blattner congratulated Dr Faireka and Dr Lwin on their accomplishments.

“This shows what can be achieved through collaborative partnerships between institutions and across national borders.

“While we continue to strengthen this medical programme, consideration should be given to exploring other opportunities for postgraduate education for the Cook Islands. This is relevant particularly in the areas of dental, oral health and pharmacy, as they look to reorientate their health system with greater focus on prevention through the strengthening of primary care and public health.”

- Kōrero by Andrea Jones, Team Leader, Divisional Communications

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