Med school Maori student numbers double

The number of Maori studying towards medical degrees at the University of Otago has almost doubled in five years.

''It is a win-win for communities and for Maori health, and the opportunity to have New Zealand-trained doctors working in our hospitals is also really positive,'' Associate Prof Jo Baxter, health science division associate dean Maori, said.

In 2008, just over 60 students who identified as being Maori were enrolled in medical courses at the University of Otago and just under 20 were beginning their medical degrees.

In 2012 the number of enrolments was over 200, and more than 40 were beginning their medical degrees.

Those enrolments were expected to have increased again in 2013.

Prof Baxter said the university - with funding from the Ministry of Health - was able to support initiatives such as the Tu Kahika programme, which was launched in 2010.

That scholarship programme helped prepare Maori students academically for their first year of tertiary study and a future career in health.

In 2011 another programme began in partnership with the university's Maori Centre aimed at supporting health science students, such as providing information, holding get-togethers and encouraging students to study together.

''Our hope is to help the health professional workforce in New Zealand reflect what society looks like,'' Prof Baxter said.

At present, only 2.9% of the medical profession identified as being Maori, but that looked set to change, as about 15% of new students studying at the Medical School identified as being Maori.

The students came from diverse backgrounds, some being the first in their family to go on to tertiary education, or the first from their respective schools to go to university.

''Many of them have had some significant disadvantages before coming into university: financial ones, health issues in their families, difficult life circumstances,'' Prof Baxter, who is also director of the Maori Health Workforce Development Unit, said.

It was important Maori became health professionals, as they brought different skills to the healthcare of patients, particularly Maori.

''We do have a number of students who want to return home to do general practice. Others have been inspired to be pediatricians because they see the need for healthy children.''

Others had been inspired to get involved in public health because there were opportunities to contribute.''

It was expected the increase in Maori enrolments would in turn lead to more Maori graduating with medical degrees.

Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia said the increase in Maori medical students was ''pleasing news and contributes greatly to the growing number of Maori health professionals nationwide''.

''It is vital that we have as many qualified Maori doctors, nurses, dentists and other health professionals as we can,'' she said.