Hurdles overcome on way to physiotherapy degree

Samoan University of Otago graduand Eliana Viali, with her brother Zenith Viali, father  Dr...
Samoan University of Otago graduand Eliana Viali, with her brother Zenith Viali, father Dr Satupaitea Viali, a Samoan-based cardiologist, and mother Sialei Viali. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Samoan student Eliana Viali faced some tough times and battled homesickness before completing her bachelor of physiotherapy degree at the University of Otago this year.

Miss Viali (22) will graduate from Otago in a ceremony at the Dunedin Town Hall today, and her father, Dr Satupaitea Viali, a cardiologist in Samoa, mother Sialei Viali and brother Zenith Viali will watch and join the celebrations.

"I feel great about graduating.

"The journey to a bachelor's degree is coming to a sweet end," Miss Viali said yesterday.

"It's been such a long time since the beginning of the degree," she added.

Her father, Dr Viali, is based at the 200-bed Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital, in Samoa's capital, Apia.

Miss Viali plans to become just the fourth physiotherapist based at that hospital.

She also knows she will have another struggle on her hands "trying to promote the profession" when she returns to Samoa, after completing her four-year qualification.

Physiotherapy had traditionally had a low profile in Samoa. It was little known, apart from its connection with rugby teams, and the benefits were often not recognised.

Samoans had also been disadvantaged by the lack of awareness of physiotherapy.

"I don't think we've had the best quality of life in terms of rehabilitation from strokes or injury".

When she was at the Samoan hospital for a study placement last year, doctors asked if she would go on to study medicine.

"It just wasn't understood that I'm doing what I want to do and it has immense value," she said.

Having initially come from Samoa to Otago University on a New Zealand Aid scholarship in 2014, at the age of 17, she had not been prepared for life so far away from her family and support network.

Nevertheless, she successfully completed her health sciences first-year studies.

But after homesickness struck the next year she decided to return to Samoa, with the backing of her teachers, for the second half of the year.

" I made friends here, but I started losing who I was. I felt isolated and I was depressed."

Another complication came last year and a two-month placement in Timaru had to be repeated in Dunedin this year.

Being part of the Pacific Island Health Professional Students Association, and support from the School of Physiotherapy and the Pacific Island Research and Student Support Unit, had been crucial to her success, she said.

'`I've learned a lot about myself and how other people function together as a community in different environments.

"I feel I've grown a lot."

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