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University of Otago Māori Health Sciences scholarship puts dream into action

Roiana Pihama

Roiana Pihama

Roiana Pihama’s dream of helping to increase numbers of Māori medical professionals has led the 2013 Nga Taiatea Wharekaura graduate into a University of Otago Tū Kahika scholarship programme for young Māori aiming for health sciences careers.

“My biggest motivation for gunning for medicine is that I really want to help people,” Roiana says. “I know there are hardly any Māori doctors. Many Māori people don’t want to visit non-Māori doctors and tell them their life story –they feel more comfortable talking to their own and may put off going to the doctor if they can’t. I want to increase the numbers of Māori doctors and help Māori people.”

The University of Otago Tū Kahika programme supports Māori students through a Foundation Year in Dunedin, preparing them for further study in Otago’s Health Sciences First Year (HSFY) course while guaranteeing accommodation in a residential college, and financial assistance for their tuition fees and accommodation costs. HSFY is a prerequisite for those going on to study Dentistry, Medical Laboratory Science, Medicine, Pharmacy, or Physiotherapy at Otago.

Roiana says it was her sixth form (Year 12) experience within a Gateway careers programme that set her on the road toward a health sciences career.

“I got a placement at Waikato Hospital and it went from there,” Roiana says. “I got to help in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Womens Assessment Unit, Emergency Department and the mental illness centre, Henry Rongomau Bennett. Then the next year I got another hospital placement and a scholarship through Te Puna Oranga that enabled me to gain experience in a whole range of things to do with Health, it was good for me and my experience.

“From there, my mentor Natania Katene was my biggest influence. She knew people who had done Tū Kahika and she visited the University of Otago to see what it was like. She came back and told me all about it – I was really, really interested.

“I didn’t do all the sciences up to NCEA Level Three at high school. I wasn’t confident and HSFY is hard-out as a first academic year. I didn’t want to risk going into it and failing. So I thought, ‘why not do an extra year to get better at the study side of things, but have fun as well?’.”

With affiliations to Waikato and Taranaki iwi, and Rangitaawhi and Ngati Mahanga hapu, plus her demonstrated interest in health sciences, Roiana applied and was accepted for the Tū Kahika programme. The lectures in physics, biology, chemistry, calculus, statistics, English and epidemiology are providing a solid grounding to meet the challenges she will face if she is accepted into Otago’s HSFY course next year.

“It is hard being away from family, but it’s worth it,” she says. “It gives you your own sense of independence. We are really supported by Tū Kahika mentors and ex-Tū Kahika students from previous years – it’s really a family, especially thanks to the Programme Manager Zoë Bristowe.”

Ms Bristowe says, “it’s fantastic to meet and be able to support inspirational young people that you know will make a significant contribution to Māori health outcomes like Roiana. Roiana is fluent in te reo Māori and a very dedicated student, she’s made a good decision to use the Tū Kahika Scholarship to be better prepared for HSFY next year. Roiana is an outstanding young woman and I’m looking forward to seeing her achieve her goal of becoming a doctor in the near future.”

Roiana visited Dunedin last year thanks to an University of Otago On Campus Experience (OCE) scholarship which enabled her to see what it was like in the southern city. She made a second visit with her family to confirm which residential college she would prefer to live in if she was accepted for Tū Kahika.

“I wanted to be put into Arana. When I came to Dunedin for the OCE programme, I visited Arana and I just loved it – it gave me a sense that I was at home. The Warden, Jamie Gilbertson, is so funny and so accepting.”
Roiana offers this advice to high school students thinking of heading to Otago.

“Apply for every and any scholarship you can. Even if it seems hard and takes a long time, it doesn’t matter in the long run because you never know what you will get. You may get money to support you and your dreams just like the Tū Kahika Scholarship has done for me.”

Learn more about Otago’s Tū Kahika Scholarship programme

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