Teenager Alamaine Tahitahi-Matiu has always wanted to help people, but it was work experience with Kaitaia's iMOKO that made her want to become a doctor — and more than that, the first Far North-born and bred Maori woman to qualify as a doctor and return those skills to her community.
And she hopes her ambition will inspire others of her generation to set their sights high.
The 17-year-old Kaitaia Abundant Life School student has now taken a major step towards achieving that goal by winning a $10,000 Study Start Scholarship from AMP.
"I didn't always want to be a doctor, but I've always wanted to help people and make a difference," Alamaine said.
"Last year, as part of my work experience, through our Gateway programme, I was given the opportunity to work as an iMOKO champion where I got to assess children and swab throats. The kaupapa of Dr Lance O'Sullivan's initiative to give free health care to children, in a way that doesn't cause inconvenience for whanau, really inspired me."
She was well aware of the struggles some people faced.
"I've witnessed the financial stress and the strain it has on some families, and the struggles and burden [involved in] accessing and seeking services."
She was also keenly aware of the need for more wahine Maori doctors in the Far North, and was determined to help fill the void.
"The issue I've found with people in our community is that they're not really felt comfortable approaching male doctors, and also when it's someone who isn't Maori, that's someone who can't relate to what the patient has gone through and they find that daunting," she added
She had also been part of the Hawea Vercoe Leadership Programme, again established by Dr O'Sullivan.
"It teaches rangatahi to step up in leadership, but it also pairs youth with mentors in whatever they want to go into. This year I've been mentored by another Maori doctor from up here, Joel Pirini. It's been inspiring to be able to learn alongside them, and it's been empowering," she said.
"It's boosted my confidence and given me drive. If they can do it, I can do it as well."
She had applied to study for a Bachelor's degree in health sciences at the University of Auckland, and winning the scholarship meant everything to her.
"I cried. I was happy, because when my dream came true I realised that so many more rangatahi from up here were going to achieve great things because of the example that I've hopefully set."