Book celebrates Pacific success at Otago University

posted: 7:30 pm - 20th October 2019
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(Picture caption: Doctors Alvin, Adrienne and Allen Mitikulena (right) with Associate Dean (Pacific) Health Sciences, Faumuina Associate Professor Fa’afetai Sopoaga. Photo: PMN.)

A book celebrating Pacific success in health sciences at the University of Otago has been launched recently at Parliament.

University of Otago alumni and siblings Alvin, Adrienne and Allen Mitikulena, who all work as General Practitioners in Wellington, were on-hand to help launch Te Folauga: The Journey

The Mitikulena siblings are also talented gospel singers, and performed at the book launch, hosted Health Minister Hon David Clark. 

Te Folauga: The Journey outlines the journey of Pacific students, staff and communities over the past 20 years in the Division of Health Sciences.  

In 1989, the Mitikulena family migrated from Niue to Wellington in search of better opportunities, and particularly to further the family’s education. 

Today, the family operate their own general practice in Wellington - Kilbirnie Medical Centre - where all three siblings work as GPs. 

“We were all blessed to have been granted entry into medical school at the University of Otago through the Pacific Admissions Programme at the time,” Alvin explains. 

While at that time there was no specific support centre for Pacific students studying in health sciences as there is today with the development of the Pacific Centre, Va’a O Tautai, Alvin says the siblings were able to provide each other support. 

Associate Dean (Pacific) Health Sciences Faumuina Associate Professor Fa’afetai Sopoaga, who edited Te Folauga: The Journey, explains she felt it was important to tell the stories around the many Pacific successes within the Division of Health Sciences over the past 20 years. 

“Often, we hear negatives around Pacific statistics, but I felt we also needed to hear about the success of Pacific students and how the University has contributed to increasing the number of Pacific students who are graduating and are out there making a difference in the health sector in a wide range of areas including doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, pharmacists and dentists,” the Associate Professor says. 

In 2016, for the first time at the Otago Medical School, the proportional representation of Pacific students entering the medical programme was eight percent, mirroring representation of Pacific people in the community. 

This achievement has been maintained in subsequent years and last year the number of Pacific students accepted into Dentistry tripled, compared with the previous year. 

The Associate Professor says the University has not worked in isolation, the success is also due to the work done by the Ministry of Health which has invested heavily to support the journey of students, together with Pacific communities. 

Manager of the University’s Pacific Islands Centre Tofilau Nina Kirifi-Alai says the book outlines not only the University’s journey, but a journey of Pacific leadership with Associate Professor Sopoaga’s contribution acknowledged with her being awarded the Prime Minister’s Supreme Award at the Tertiary Teaching Excellence Awards last year. 

“When we started out, we were struggling to be heard, but now we are more visible and that gives us hope,” Tofilau says. 

“With a clear strategy and great leadership, you can turn around any challenges.”