Diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer are more than simply illnesses that kill Māori at a devastatingly high rate, according to Harvard-bound medical student Koan Hemana.
The Rotorua teenager has been accepted into the prestigious US university in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Hemana won a scholarship through the Te Ara a Kupe Beaton fund to help him apply to one of the world’s top educational facilities.
Last Friday, while at his part-time job at the Zorb Rotorua tourist spot, Hemana learned he had been accepted to Harvard University.
“The plan was we would wait until after work and wait for Mum and Dad and we would check the university portal together,” the 18-year-old told the Herald.
“But I couldn’t wait. I was in the bathroom at work and went to the university portal.
“I was crying because I was so happy and next thing I know, my whānau are all at my job and I got the rest of the day off.”
Hemana’s mum Kelly immediately took to Facebook to say how proud she was of her son.
“Well done son. At the end of 2021, I posted a proud mama moment as he was named Deputy Head Boy at Rotorua High Boys’ High. Now I get to say all your hard work has paid off as you are offered a place at Harvard University,” she wrote.
Hemana’s determination to get to Harvard is twofold. Firstly, another Rotorua schoolboy Sam Taylor - a family friend - was accepted to Harvard a few years back.
“That’s where the dream started, and this means a lot to me and I just can’t put into words how hard my family and I have worked to get a chance and now that it been confirmed, the real hard work begins,” Hemana, Te Arawa and Tu Wharetoa Iwi, said.
The second is the health inequalities Māori face on a daily basis.
“It is the typical spiel that Māori have the worst statistics in diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer - all the things you see statistically online and it is quite upsetting and that is where my goal from medicine came from,” Hemana said.
“It is one thing to read about Māori suffering inequalities online but to actually see and live it through my own whānau made it real for me so my love of science and my own personal observations pushed me towards medicine.
“I want to study at Harvard because they provide the best education in the world. I want to become one of the most skilled surgeons that’s ever lived and use those skills to help as many people as possible. Many of my family members have suffered chronic illness and some have experienced a flawed healthcare system here in New Zealand. I want to study at the best medical school in the world, in the hopes of giving back to the communities of New Zealand and to help change and evolve our healthcare system for the better.”
Hemana will head to the US in August 2023 and enrol for four years, majoring in subjects that lend themselves to a medical degree.
“I’m leaning towards neuroscience or biochem. If I get good enough marks, I will apply for the Harvard Medical School - a graduate school - and then four more years there and then straight back home to practice, preferably in Rotorua so I can give back to so many who have given to me.
“I want to contribute in New Zealand as much as I can.”
Hemana said he wanted to thank the Crimson Education for the Te Ara a Kupe Beaton Scholarship.
“This not just mine or my whānau’s success but everyone who has been part of this journey and those yet to be part,” Hemana said.