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A generous donation from a general practitioner to establish a new scholarship is both a way of giving back to the Otago Medical School and a chance to offer support and encouragement to students on their career journeys.

The donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, has gifted the University $5,000 for each of the next five years, for the Āwhina Scholarship, which will financially support one female Māori or Pacific undergraduate medical student each year.

As well as academic ability and potential, the scholarship selection panel considers the applicants’ involvement in and commitment to Māori or Pacific communities.

“It is about giving back to the new generation,” says the donor, who is an Otago alumna. “In my day . . . we had no loans hanging over us when we finished studying, which is such a dampener, having these huge loans to deal with.

“The other thing is we’re desperate for general practitioners, we want people to work in the community. From my point of view, the most important thing is that the people who receive the scholarship are committed, not long-term, but initially, to provide healthcare to their communities.

“People want their people looking after them, and they are the best people to look after each other.”

The donor also hopes the financial support will help people through a difficult patch and act as an inspiration for their future careers.

The Director of Development and Alumni Relations at Otago, Shelagh Murray, says the University is very grateful for the donor’s generous support.

“The scholarship provides much-needed financial assistance to students, but it is also inspiring in that it actively encourages and supports their valuable contribution and commitment to their communities,” says Ms Murray.

Chloe Priebe
Chloe Priebe.

The inaugural recipient of the scholarship is fifth-year medical student Chloe Priebe (Ngāpuhi). Chloe, who is based at the Wellington campus, says she was shocked and surprised to hear she had been awarded the scholarship.

“Though I didn’t know who was going for this scholarship, I think I assumed that someone else who is just as worthy would receive it over me,” says Chloe.

Although she has been involved throughout her medical school journey in various kaupapa to help Māori tuaira (students), she says she knows “so many other passionate wāhine out there, both in my year and coming through in the years below me, who have also supported tauira”.

“More than surprised though, I was incredibly happy and thankful for the additional financial support that this scholarship has granted me. It's an incredible honour to be the first wāhine to receive this scholarship and I am hoping I can use it to further support myself financially, while I get even more involved with a few different kaupapa I am hoping to be a part of in the next year.”

In 2020, Chloe was a mentor for health science first-year students (HSFY), in 2021 she was involved with the Ka Rikarika o Tāne student mentorship programme, and in 2022 was voted onto the Ngā Puna Hauora executive (Māori health professional student executive). In this role she also sat on the Wellington Health Professional Students’ Association as the liaison between the Māori student executive and wider health professional executive at the medical school. This year she has continued on the Ngā Puna Hauora executive.

“Growing up as someone who is Māori but does not necessarily look Māori, meant that I felt like I never fit it. But when I went to uni and was so welcomed and experienced the whānau environment, I felt like I truly belonged. I think this support and validation gave me the confidence to get involved and try out for new things such as various execs and mentorship roles.”

Chloe grew up 30 minutes outside Te Puke in the Bay of Plenty. “I didn’t begin my Te Ao Māori journey until towards the end of high school. My dad, who is Māori, did not bring us up with Te Ao Māori. What I learnt about Māori culture and my heritage, including the struggles of my people, was through my friends who had been raised with Te Ao Māori values.

“As I learnt more about my own heritage as I grew up, I began to see my own whānau have poor experiences when interacting with health professionals, and the fear of going to a doctor due to fear of them not being taken seriously or having an experience of racism. These anecdotes and experiences of those who I care about inspired me to do what I can to change the healthcare system and create more positive experiences and equitable health outcomes for our people.”

Chloe’s goal is to one day become a vascular surgeon.

“But I never knew how to combine my love for surgery and my passion for Māori healthcare. Then, in fourth year on my general surgery placement, I was placed on the vascular surgery team. The team was incredible, the registrars were super keen to teach and get me involved and the consultants were incredibly inspiring and took the time to teach and share their passion, which I greatly appreciated.”

In addition to loving the work and the team, Chloe found that the majority of the patients on the vascular surgery ward were Māori and Pacific, and that this career path will allow her to combine her two passions within healthcare.

Chloe has one more year left of university and has been elected onto Ngā Puna Hauora for 2024 and also Te Oranga (Māori Medical Students’ Association) for 2024.

“Sometimes I wonder if I am doing enough for my people and whether there is more that I can do. Getting awarded this scholarship I think reminds me that I am helping other tauira and in turn our Māori communities and adds fuel to the fire, inspiring me to do more and keep using my privilege to lift up my other Māori colleagues.”

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