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Otago student doctors get Pacific experience

27 February 2018

Posted in: Pacific Radio News,

By Mabel Muller -

Spending a weekend with a Pacific family is now a compulsory requirement for fourth-year medicine students at the University of Otago's Dunedin campus.

The Pacific Immersion Programme was rolled out in 2010 as an option, giving 80 students the opportunity to experience the social circumstances that lead to certain health conditions within the Pacific community.

Students in the Pacific Immersion Programme with members of the Tuvalu, Kiribati, Fiji and Tokelau communities in Dunedin. Photo/ Supplied.

Associate Professor and Associate Dean Faumuina Fa'afetai Sopoaga says it's a valuable cultural experience for training health professionals, who often come from privileged backgrounds.

"Most of these students are from middle to upper income class families. Some of them have little understanding of what it is to stay in a state house or to be cold," she says.

"This is their only opportunity to work from within and to allow our communities to teach them about what is actually important for them when it comes to seeing them in the clinic."

Faumuina Associate Professor Fa'afetai Sopoaga. Photo/ Supplied.

Health reports and experts have raised concerns over Pacific people's low access to health services and Faumuina says the work they're doing will help improve those rates.

"When somebody doesn't turn up for an appointment, there's a reason behind that and you need to explore what those reasons are. It's really about helping them [students] look at a situation from the inside out."

And, so far, the programme has proved popular. 

"It's been a transformational learning environment for students... it's a highlight for them."

The initiative is now a part of a newly-established Pacific entity within the University of Otago's health sciences, Va'a o Tautai.

The university's Christchurch campus will adopt the Pacific Immersion Programme this year and discussions are underway with its Wellington campus to follow suit in the near future. 

Tags: health,