Dr Valerie August first came to Hokianga in 2006 on a short locum position and now lives there with her family.
Photo/Supplied

The iconic kiwi movie Whale Rider inspired Dr Valerie August to visit New Zealand but it was the warmth and generosity of Hokianga locals that hooked her.

So much so that the American not only met her husband in that part of Northland but the couple bought a house and put down roots there.

Born in Seattle to an Puerto Rican father and a European mother, Valerie's first job was in an agricultural area on the outskirts of Los Angeles but she didn't enjoy the anonymity of such a large urban area.

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After watching Whale Rider, the film starring Keisha Castle-Hughes as a young Māori girl desperate to take her place as the head of her tribe, Valerie wanted to see what New Zealand was really like.

She visited the country for a week in 2005 but didn't come to Northland.

Her first visit to Northland was a year later when the medical recruitment service NZ Locums offered her a short stint in Hokianga.

She met Dallon - a youth worker and her future husband - while sailing in Rawene and they have a boy and a girl.

Valerie works for Hokianga Health, a community owned, not-for-profit primary health care trust in Rawene which provides in-patient, accident and emergency services at the small rural hospital, along with community general practice clinics, mental health services, disability support, public health promotion and community development initiatives.

Dr Valerie August first came to Hokianga in 2006 on a short locum position and now lives there with her family. Photo/Supplied
Dr Valerie August first came to Hokianga in 2006 on a short locum position and now lives there with her family. Photo/Supplied

It serves a primarily Māori population of less than 7000 although it swells to more than 10,000 in the summer months with the influx of tourists.

"Although I love general practice, I did miss the acute care side of things, and here I get the opportunity to use my skills in all sorts of different way.

"But the main thing about living and working here is that you are part of a community, that you are connected, that people care about each other. I love the inter-connectedness - people's connection with their land, and the landscape."

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The extent of the love and support of locals is something Valerie and Dallon experienced first-hand after the tragic loss of their 2-year-old son Ihaka who died in his sleep last year.

He had pneumonia.

"This is where I belong, and where I want to raise my family."

Valerie, a RNZCGP Fellow who also holds a Fellowship in Rural Hospital Medicine, is passing on her passion for rural medicine by helping to teach rural immersion units to the next generation of doctors. She is also working towards a Diploma in Rural and Provincial Hospital Practice from the University of Otago.

"There is an under-recognised issue in New Zealand that the medical care delivery models used here were primarily designed and tested in urban areas.

"Rural populations are challenged with different social factors but the policies we have in place take little account of that. This means that rural patients aren't receiving the same level of service. Hopefully, my research will help shed more light on this issue so policy makers can understand the differences and make the changes that are needed."