Story by Cliff Taylor, NZ Doctor (April 2015 edition)
The health sector can look forward to a “tsunami” of Māori doctors, but steps must be taken to ensure they are not crushed by the weight of expectations, says National Hauora Coalition clinical director Rawiri Jansen. Momentum is building in the number of Māori doctors, Dr Jansen told the rural health conference. Where once medical schools would see one Māori medical student every two or three years, now there are cohorts of six, 10, 15 or 20 in Dunedin and Auckland.
He says it is a big step to have attained demographic proportionality in the number of Māori medical students, but the burden of disease creates a compelling reason for more Māori to train and serve as doctors. Māori make up only around three per cent of the medical workforce.
Dr Jansen, an Auckland GP and chair of Te Ohu Rata o Aotearoa – Māori Medical Practitioners, says pressures on young Maori doctors arise not just in their communities but also when they are compared to past figures like Sir Maui Pomare and Paratene Ngata, and current doctors like David Tipene-Leach and, especially, Papaarangi Reid (“the most influential of my time”).
“In the next three to five years we should start to see this tsunami,” Dr Jansen says. But there will be a few casualties: “There is a huge burden on young Māori doctors to solve all these problems.” The upcoming generation of doctors “marinate” in stories of great Māori doctors, like Lance O’Sullivan. It can be a daunting prospect, Dr Jansen says, and it needs to be carefully managed. There is a strong expectation that Māori doctors will go home to work in their communities and this can add to the pressure they experience. “There are train-crash stories to tell,” he says. “Doctors are getting burned out.”
He wants to see young Māori doctors step up to a national stage, as Dr O’Sullivan has done, but this can change current relationships with family and colleagues. More will need to be done, for example, mentoring and possibly collaborating with Health Workforce NZ to support young doctors. Māori doctors will have a vital role in primary care’s workforce and succession issues. “You are going to have a whole lot more Māori doctors engaging with you in your clinics,” he told the audience. “Sometimes they will be your exit strategy.”