PMA Scholar: Pacific support network inspires success in health sector

After graduating from a Bachelor of Medicine and a Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) at the University of Otago School of Medicine in December 2019, twenty-six-year-old David Nair has been working as a first-year health surgeon at Christchurch Hospital.

He’s also the recipient of the Pasifika Medical Association’s Papali’i Dr Semisi Ma’ia’i University of Otago Scholarship which he utilised to go back home to Fiji and work in hospitals there as part of his elective.

“Part of the reason for applying was I needed help financially for my final year of studies at med school, to cover the cost of electives. Receiving the scholarship meant that I could go back home to Fiji and work in a hospital and cover costs for flights and accommodation. I was also able to bring my parents and grandma over for a week. It was their first time back home in 20-years. So, this scholarship was meaningful for everyone in my family.”

Nair says it’s a position he initially thought was beyond the scope of what he could achieve, admitting advice before university always seemed like his career options in health were limited.

“I had it ingrained in me that I wasn’t capable of excelling in a career in health. It wasn’t until I started studying at Otago University my mind was opened to the Pacific support down there and the senior students who shared their sentiments going through medical school.

“That whole saying that¾when one of us succeeds, the whole village succeeds, it really resonated with me and my family situation. That sparked a new passion for medicine and it snowballed from there. I started to weigh up what impact you can have, not only on you and your families’ situation but also the wider Pacific community as well.

“Now, as a first-year health surgeon I’ve just finished my second rotation in orthopaedics and will soon start my first rotation in cardiology. Every day has been exciting, it’s very humbling, and privileged work. Our work is on the frontline particularly going through Covid-19, we are privy to lots of personal information to help with making the best diagnosis for people that come in.

“There are challenges but, there’s lots of joy that you get with the small things…whether it be making the right diagnoses, or right medical call or even just setting someone up on the right referral pathway. There’s so much you see and do working in a hospital.”

Nair says working alongside PMA President Dr Kiki Maoate has been a highlight for him and reinforced his interest to specialise in surgery and work within paediatrics.

“I’m really grateful and humbled by the support from PMA. To anyone wanting to apply for the scholarship… throw your name in, this is not the time to be humble, put yourself out there as much as you can.”

The late Papali’i Dr Semisi Ma’ia’i was the only Samoan practitioner working in Auckland in the 1970’s. Many Samoan patients came from far and wide to be treated by him as many did not speak English or understand the medical terms used by doctors. He is remembered as using medicine and the Samoan language to change lives.

He studied at the Fiji Medical School in 1947 and worked as a doctor in Samoa for three years until he received a bursary at age 26 to move to New Zealand. He had to retrain as a doctor at the Otago Medical School and graduated in 1962. In 2011, Dr Ma’ia’i was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the Samoan community. He’s authored several publications in his life time including the first ever bilingual Samoan-English dictionary: Tusi’upu SāmoanHe wrote a bilingual Samoan-English medical dictionary, and an autobiography: Samoan Odyssey: A Life Story.

Papali’i Dr Semisi Ma’ia’i University of Otago scholarship is worth $5,000 per recipient and awarded to two Pacific male and two Pacific female students in their fifth year of studying a Bachelor of Medicine and a Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) at the University of Otago School of Medicine.

Opening date for all 2020 scholarships is Monday 25 May and applications close on Friday 3 July 2020.  Please see the link to apply:

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Date: Thursday 28 May 2020