A book by one of the most influential Māori doctors in recent memory helped an 18-year-old Hamilton student pursue a career that has been years in the making.

Joseph Graham, of Ngai Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui, Tainui, and Ngāti Manawa descent, is midway through his first year at the University of Otago with support from a Tū Kahika Scholarship.

The scholarship – sometimes referred to as TK – supports Māori students through a Foundation Year in Dunedin, preparing them for further study in Otago's Health Sciences First Year (HSFY) course while guaranteeing accommodation in a residential college, and financial assistance for their tuition fees and accommodation costs.

HSFY is a prerequisite for those going on to study Dentistry, Medical Laboratory Science, Medicine, Pharmacy, or Physiotherapy at Otago.

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Joseph says he has so far enjoyed settling into a new phase and has just finished his first round of examinations. Adapting to a new style of learning has been something he has embraced.

"There's no one on your case 24/7, so you're by yourself – you've got to put in the work," he says.

"I'm enjoying it more this year because I think I learn better that way, to find my drive."

For most of his time at Hamilton Boys' High School, Joseph was juggling between becoming a pilot, or moving towards the medical field. Reading Dr Lance O'Sullivan's book The Good Doctor was the turning point.

"That just really inspired me and drove me to try and go to university and do medicine."

With his career path set, the next decision was between Otago and the University of Auckland. He spent a week in Dunedin as part of REACH, an initiative aimed at helping prospective students get a taste of the various health science programmes.

It didn't take long for Joseph to fall in love with Otago, and he has been connecting with
his 16 fellow Tū Kahika scholarship recipients in and out of the classroom.

For Māori Health Workforce Development Unit project manager Zoe Bristowe, connecting with other people is a core component of the Tū Kahika programme.

"TK students are all very committed to improving Māori health and well-being and actively support one another to achieve their study and career goals," Ms Bristowe says.

"The students are now represented across a range of health professional degree programmes and increasingly in the health workforce.

"It's a great preparation programme for young Māori interested in careers in health."

Joseph says a tree-planting exercise with the Kati Huirapa community at Puketeraki recently undertaken by the scholars was an important element to helping him feel like he was settling in Dunedin.

"That was really good to do some community activity, it was just sort-of like being back
at home.

"Tree planting is something we do quite often back home, and doing it down here with other Māori was just really relaxing and soothing."