Three Niuean siblings, all University of Otago alumni now working as GPs in Wellington, helped launch a book celebrating Pacific success in health sciences at the University.
Te Folauga: The Journey outlines
the journey of Pacific students, staff and communities over the past 20 years
in the Division of Health Sciences.
The Mitikulena family have been on their own journey since leaving their Niuean home in 1989 to shift to New Zealand.
Doctor Alvin explains their family migrated to Wellington from Niue in search of better opportunities, particularly to further the family’s education.
family operate their own general practice, Kilbirnie Medical Centre, in
Wellington where all three work as GPs.
“We were all
blessed to have been granted entry into medical school at the University of
Otago through the Pacific Admisssions Programme at the time,” Dr Alvin
While at that
time there was no specific support centre for Pacific students studying in
health sciences as there is today with the development of the Pacific Centre,
Va’a O Tautai, Dr Alvin says the siblings were able to provide each
like Va’a O Tautai would have been helpful, but we had each other in a sense,
which worked out well particularly in sharing text books as we were only a few
years apart in class.
“We were all
involved in the local Pacific community with our Seventh Day Adventist church
where we participated in church services, youth group and we were also part of
the Overseas Christian Fellowship.
“We had fellow
Pasifika student friends who were also studying medicine or who had not long
qualified who were very encouraging and supportive of us.”
(Pacific) Health Sciences, Faumuina Associate Professor Fa’afetai Sopoaga, who
edited Te Folauga: The Journey, explains
she felt it was important to tell the stories around the many Pacific successes
within the Division of Health Sciences over the past 20 years.
hear negatives around Pacific statistics, but I felt we also needed to hear
about the success of Pacific students and how the University has contributed to
increasing the number of Pacific students who are graduating and are out there
making a difference in the health sector in a wide range of areas including
doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, pharmacists and dentists.”
In 2016, for
the first time at the Otago Medical School, the proportional representation of
Pacific students entering the medical programme was 8 per cent, mirroring
representation of Pacific people in the community. This achievement has been maintained in
subsequent years and last year the number of Pacific students accepted into
Dentistry tripled, compared with the previous year.
Professor Sopoaga says the University has not worked in isolation, the success
is also due to the work done by the Ministry of Health which has invested
heavily to support the journey of students, together with Pacific communities.
would not have happened without the support of University leaders who had the
vision and were willing to walk the talk.”
Manager of the
University’s Pacific Islands Centre, Tofilau Nina Kirifi-Alai, says the book
outlines not only the University’s journey, but a journey of Pacific leadership
with Associate Professor Sopoaga’s contribution acknowledged with her being
awarded the Prime Minister’s Supreme Award at the Tertiary Teaching Excellence
Awards last year.
“When we started
out, we were struggling to be heard, but now we are more visible and that gives
Pacific story is not portrayed positively, but we have shown that we are
successful and contributing to improving health outcomes for all New Zealanders.
With a clear strategy and great leadership, you can turn around any challenges.”
Dr Alvin says
he has fond memories of his time as a student and urges young Pacific people to
consider the wide variety of options offered at the University of Otago.
“Dunedin is a
student town and it caters for students well. There is a lot of support
available to Pacific students now, so take the opportunity to get a world class
degree when it comes your way.”