New Zealand initiative to encourage doctors to step up

Maori doctors can make a huge difference for their communities by training to become surgeons, one of only a handful of Maori surgeons in the country - who works in Whangarei Hospital - says.

New Zealand has more than 800 surgeons but fewer than 10 identify as Maori - an imbalance which a new $20,000 surgical scholarship aims to address.

The scholarship, provided by Johnson and Johnson Medical along with Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, will provide support to Maori doctors studying to become surgeons.

Whangarei Hospital surgeon Maxine Ronald, 43, of Ngapuhi/Ngatiwai descent, said while she had plenty of support studying medicine at Auckland University, the lack of Maori surgeons in hospitals was noticeable. She said there were a number of reasons why junior doctors weren't attracted to surgery.


"Maori go into medicine to improve Maori health and they don't feel like they can make a difference if they become a surgeon."

But Dr Ronald disagreed, saying Maori surgeons could make a huge difference.

"We need to raise more awareness ... that cancer is an area where more Maori are needed because mortality from cancer is significantly worse than for non-Maori."

Maori patients tended to be offered "less curative treatment" and at a later stage, she said. Dr Ronald, who is also the deputy chair of the College of Surgeons' Indigenous Health Committee, said more research needed to be done, but Maori were always behind with treatment.

She said some Maori also decided to pursue medicine later in life or came from diverse backgrounds, which made the demands of surgical training difficult.

"Some have families to support too and the training may seem too arduous to consider doing surgery.

"So hopefully some of the work we are doing, trying to mentor medical students and junior doctors, may help them to reconsider their choice."

The good news, however, was she noticed since her training as a surgeon, there were more Maori doctors showing an interest in pursuing a career as a surgeon.

"It's really exciting for us."

As well as scholarship opportunities, the College of Surgeons was encouraging Maori doctors to attend conferences to network with other surgeons.

Dr Ronald said she received "amazing support" and developed strong relationships through the Maori and Pacific Admission Scheme while studying medicine.

She recently decided to take a job in Whangarei as she had iwi connections there and had always wanted to be a part of improving Maori health.

"I belong in the Ngapuhi and Ngatiwai tribe and working in the area that I'm from and in an area of high need was very exciting for me."

She said the surgical department in Whangarei was very supportive of improving health and developing a Maori health programme.

Johnson and Johnson Medical managing director Gavin Fox-Smith said it was committed to supporting indigenous health not only in New Zealand but also in Australia.