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Top New Zealand surgeon reconstructing Pacific stereotypes

08 August 2017

Posted in: Pacific Radio News,

One of New Zealand's most qualified surgeons is breaking the negative stereotypes around Pacific people.

Rakesh Jattan, of Samoan and Fijian-Indian descent, is one of only 23 oral maxillofacial surgeons in the country.

He says Maori and Pacific people are on the wrong side of most of the important statistics in health and education and he's happy to be going against it. 

"To be a Pacific Islander, where I am now, it's quite nice to contribute my part to educating people and encouraging other Pacific people to pursue their dreams."

Samoan-Fijian-Indian Rakesh Jattan is one of the most qualified surgeons in New Zealand. Photo/ PRN. 

The 40-year-old has spent the last 19 years studying dentistry and medicine and deals with diseases, injuries or defects that affect the mouth and the face.

"Broken jaws, fractured cheek bones, fractured eye sockets and pretty significant dental and facial infections that spread down to the neck and even oral cancer and jaw re-positioning surgeries."

Jattan says the job is tough but being able to help people and save lives, makes it worthwhile.

"Seeing people hurt and broken is challenging. Having to tell people they have cancer and that you may have to resect part of their jaw and face is hard as well but at the same time you get to be involved in trying to fix things which is quite rewarding.

"We're able to align jaws in certain ways and so people not only look better but function better and that can change people's confidence and self-esteem and that's extremely rewarding."

Jattan says his occupation is unique and he'd love to see more Pacific people in it. 

"We're positive, we laugh a lot and we don't take things too seriously," he says. "But when it's time to work, we know how to work and when it's time to care, we know how to care and when it's time to give and be generous with our time, we know how to do that.

"Those things aren't exclusive to Pacific people but it's a strength for us."

Jattan says Pacific people have big hearts which is a huge attribute in his field of work. 

"There's a lot of generosity in the culture, not just to help ourselves but to help anybody," he says. "While it's nice for me as Pacific Islander to help other Pacific Islanders, it's important for me as a Pacific Islander to be able to help anybody and that's one thing most cultures will do but it's a unique strength of Pacific people."

Rakesh Jattan (right) in action. Photo/ Supplied.

The father-of-four says he's still in the process of paying off his student loan, but is encouraging Pacific students not to let the fear of debt stop them from pursuing their dreams.

"It turns a lot of people off but I'm doing something I love and being able to do such wonderful things has made it worth it," he says. "Go for it and surround yourself with people who can mentor and encourage you." 

After completing his final two years in England's Queen Victoria Hospital, Jattan is now back in New Zealand and is hoping to be placed in South Auckland's Middlemore Hospital to give back to his community. 

The oral maxillofacial surgeon has hopes of working closely with doctors in Samoa and Fiji in the near future.

"They're very close to my heart and whatever skills or experience and expertise that I have would be good to build networks with them," he says. "I'm in a position to be able to do that. I'll be working on that in the next two to three years."

Tags: oral maxillofacial surgery, medicine, dentistry, Rakesh Jattan,