Group 'deeply disturbed' by proposal limiting equity pathways

Students involved in the rort will still also have their applications considered for registration...
About 280 students are accepted into second-year medicine at Otago each year. In 2020, more than half were admitted through equity pathwaysPhoto: ODT file
The idea of capping the number of students entering the Otago Medical School through equity pathways has "deeply disturbed" a physicians advocacy group.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians’ (RACP) Māori health committee has written an open letter to the University of Otago to express concern.

"We write as Māori physicians and paediatricians who see the inequity of health outcomes on tangata whenua from inside the hospital system," the letter begins.

"We know from morbidity and mortality data that although whānau Māori are more likely to experience and die from several types of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and respiratory conditions, they are less likely to receive a timely diagnosis or be referred for specialist treatment.

"There must be no cap on students accepted through equity pathways. We must grow the numbers of Māori and Pasifika in all parts of the health workforce, but we must continue to give particular emphasis to the medical workforce."

The letter from the college has followed discussions at the university about the way students are selected for medical school.

About 280 students are accepted into second-year medicine at Otago each year.

In 2020, more than half were admitted through equity pathways - Maori, Pasifika, rural, low socio-economic and refugee. The system can result in students in the general pathway with higher grades missing out.

The idea of capping the priority pathways was raised in a discussion document but university representatives have said a formal proposal for changes to the system has not yet been created.

The university said it is committed to the principles of its Mirror on Society policy, which is designed to ensure the student intake into health professional programmes is diverse.

In its letter, the college committee said it was "deeply disturbed" by the suggestion of caps and the Crown is obliged to actively promote equity for Māori.

"The approach we advocate for is twofold: action on the social determinants of health and increasing the Māori and Pasifika medical workforce.

"More Māori and Pasifika doctors means whānau who feel comfortable to see their respiratory physician, or their tamariki’s paediatrician, because they know that the person in charge of their care will understand them in a way no-one else can.

"Going to a health practitioner who looks and sounds like you, thinks like you and has the same core beliefs as you is an experience we want to be the norm for whānau.

"More Māori and Pasifika doctors also means more Māori and Pasifika in clinical leadership with significant opportunities to influence policy, strategy, and guideline development.

"A cap dulls the brilliance all equity pathway graduates bring to our health system.

"While Māori may make up 17% of the population, using this as the target is inherently self-limiting.

"The Māori health committee calls on the Division of Health Sciences and the University of Otago to actively protect the equity pathway, making it permanent, with no cap on annual entry numbers."

The University of Otago has been approached for comment.

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