For the twelfth year running a select group of year five students from the University of Auckland, School of Medicine were welcomed into the esteemed Pūkawakawa programme at a pōwhiri in Whangarei on Monday.
The programme was set up by the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Northland District Health Board in 2007 to offer year five medical students the opportunity to gain experience in regional and rural health.
During their time in Northland each student will spend the majority of their time working at Whangarei Hospital and the remainder placed at Dargaville, Kaitaia or Rawene Hospital to work in integrative care. Pūkawakawa’s success has led to similar programmes being set up in the Bay of Plenty and Taranaki.
Leading figures from the Faculty travelled to Whangarei to attend the welcome, including the Head of the School of Medicine Professor Alan Merry who said that the pioneering programme is one of the jewels in the crown at the Faculty of Medicine.
He said that the unique programme is hugely sought after and valued by students wanting to be part of the rural emersion experience.
“We are trying to train doctors for all of New Zealand. In particular, doctors who want to get engaged in public healthcare because there’s a huge need. That is our objective.”
Professor John Fraser, Dean of Medicine and Health Sciences also spoke of the importance of the programme saying that Pūkawakawa was the flagship of their medical programme and the University was extremely proud of what they have achieved with Northland DHB.
“We have a partnership. The purpose of Pūkawakawa is to ensure our graduates experience medicine at the very coalface of New Zealand and Northland is that coalface.”
He said that the success of Pūkawakawa can be measured in so many ways, but a good example was that 50 percent of the house surgeons currently working at Whangarei Hospital had been through the programme or were trainee interns in here in Northland.
Professor Fraser said the programme proved so popular for medical students that it was oversubscribed three-fold and all those who have taken part speak of it being transformational.
When Northland DHB Board chair, Sally Macauley spoke at the Pōwhiri, she encouraged the students to make the most of their time in Northland by getting out fishing, diving and experience the cycle trail, but also to visit Waitangi Treaty House and learn about the Ngāpuhi culture.
She said the board recognised that each student had pledged a year of their career to Northland and hoped they would learn from their patients, and obtain and retain the art of communication, as the doctor and patient interaction is the heart and art of medicine.
Northland DHB chief executive Dr Nick Chamberlain took a different tack from his usual inspirational speech about remaining idealistic. Instead, he urged students not to fear failure but embrace it and learn from their mistakes.
“If you don’t fail you’re not going to learn. We put guard rails around failure, so there’s a backstop around you. Personally, I’ve learnt much more from my failures than all the successes I’ve had.”
He told the students that they were coming to a DHB that provides very good care and that Northland’s biggest challenge is inequity caused through poverty.
“This is going to be a big learning experience, and I challenge you to think differently, act differently and look at what you’re seeing and learn from it. If we keep doing what we’ve always done, we get what we’ve always got.”
Another of the key speakers Professor Papaarangi Reid, who hails from Northland and is Tumuaki and Head of Department of Māori Health at the Faculty, also encouraged the students to get grips with the Treaty of Waitangi and what it means for New Zealanders, and in practice.
She asked them to think deep and meaningfully about what health means. Also, what enables and disables health.
“Engage in key social issues like poverty and geographic barriers to access in health services. Become political advocates for people who are marginalised by such things in your future careers.”
As a Northlander Professor Reid said, she was particularly committed to ensuring the students from the North can go back to where they’re from and engage with their marae and their hapū.
The majority of the 24 students in the 2019 Pūkawakawa intake had some affiliations with Northland including former Kaitaia College student Anaru Williams who was excited to come back home to the North.
“After six years of study, it’ll be nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and work with the rural GP’s who are very skilful.”
Wellington Trainee Intern Malachi Ropata and year five student Israel Read-Eden from Hawkes Bay had prepared for their year in Northland by taking a year out to focus on their te reo.
Malachi spent his fifth year in the Bay of Plenty programme and says he has aspirations to work in Northland focusing on Māori health.
Israel was looking forward to all the different runs that she has been waiting to experience and would be spending her initial few months at Whangarei Hospital, before her placement in Rawene at the end of the year.
Hannah Pitman-Bell has a dual role during her time in Northland as both a Year Five student in Pūkawakawa and as the site representative for the regional and rural health Grassroots programme.
“I respect Grassroots as a council – it’s all about advocating for rural medicine and the demographic differences that they have and the inequalities that are present.”
Hannah said although she was sad to leave friends behind in Auckland, she was excited to see how this year goes after hearing nothing but great feedback from friends who had also been through the programme.
“It’s such an honour to be part of a programme that’s so reputable. Everyone just raves about it.”
Photo: Year five Pūkawakawa Students preparing for their year in the North