Don't dare slag off young people in Tania Pinfold's hearing.

If anyone has a handle on youth it's Dr Pinfold, as she's formally known, but to countless kids she's the "good chick" who saved them from themselves and, often, society when at their most vulnerable.

Doctor is such a formal title for such an informal woman. There's nothing the slightest remote or stuffy about her – she's the type who tells it as it is and if a kid needs a cuddle they'll get one.

Lecturing those out of step with society is way off her agenda. She's not there to judge, she's there for them, sussing out not merely medical needs but how they can get the best out of life.

Advertisement

Often many of the lives she's dealing with are going nowhere fast but she's the last to blame her 'client kids' for their problems.

"As doctors, we're not just working with medical issues, we're looking at the big picture in the context of these young people's lives. Many lack the stability and support they need to become successful, independent adults."

Tania cites the surprising (to us, if not her) number who come her way who've been pushed out of home.

"Often this is because a parent's got a new partner so they're left with no house, without good food, don't have jobs, don't have a bank account. When we help solve these problems their health and mental health problems go away. If you can improve their social context you can improve almost everything else."

Such obvious common sense comes from a woman who has spent more than 20 years with her medical skills focused on the young.

Such dedication demands an Our People dissection of the components that have contributed to this doctor's make-up.

We start with a jolly good laugh when she confides she's the product of the risk of "family planning the natural way".

"I'm the mistake in the family, my sisters are 12 and nine years older than me," chortles the expert in assisted family planning.

She's uber proud the local teenage pregnancy rate's more than halved in 10 years, attributing this to the introduction of contraceptive rod implants.

Growing up in and around Tauranga where her parents were teachers and living on a citrus orchard she never wanted to be anything else but a doctor. Her oldest sister, Leonie Sinclair, is one too and another of our city's GPs.

But Tania considers it was her father's WWII background as a Papua New Guinea medic that led her towards medicine.

He was an Aussie army man. She comes up with another revelation here; she's the only Kiwi-born family member.

"The others came from Queensland to New Zealand before I was born, Dad had a job as a national church youth work adviser."

Youth work's obviously embedded in her DNA.

After a gap year working in a furniture store "trying to save money", Tania entered Auckland's medical school in 1982.

For much of her student years she had a job on the side – it was as a member of the Territorial Forces via the university's medical unit.

"It was a good way to have fun at weekends with classmates and earn a little bit of money. We did some fairly low-key infantry type training shooting at cardboard targets."

She spent her final year's three-month elective time as a junior medical officer in Singapore, based at New Zealand's small military hospital caring for defence force personnel and their families.

"It was very cool, I had some amazing experiences there helping with tri-services' support personnel."

We can't resist a dig about the fabled social life Singapore offered our military types.

Gales of laughter result. "Yeah, it was great, you could say we worked hard and played hard."

Her graduation meant farewell to the Territorials.

"Working 70 hours a week as a house surgeon I just couldn't keep it up."

Her house surgeon years were at Rotorua Hospital. In her second year she married former husband Mike Pinfold, a dentist, before going into practice at the Homedale Medical Centre. She locumed during their three children's infant years.

She was back at Homedale when research began into local high school students' medical needs.

"Bev O'Keefe [former Rotorua GP] came up with the bight idea of establishing a clinic at Western Heights High and invited me to do sessions there. The concept kept on growing as other secondary schools set up clinics."

In 2003 Tania moved to the Youth Centre, then in Hinemoa St, where a health clinic was established but she maintained contact with Heights.

"I continue to do weekly sessions there."

She's still Youth Centre-based running what's now Rotovegas Youth Health, with more medical work on the side. She's become a regular fixture at Te Maioha o Parekarangi, the youth justice facility at Horohoro.

"Working with young men there makes it obvious what happens when young people don't have the right support in their lives. Commonly they have problems with eyes and ears because their general health's been neglected, no wonder they don't do well at school.

"One of the saddest perspectives I have developed over my years in youth health is that there are many families where parents are completely uninterested in the welfare of their young people."

But Tania Pinfold's life is far from all doom and gloom; music's her release valve.

She began flute lessons at 12, played in her school's orchestra with jazz becoming a passion. At med school, she played in the Queen Street Big Band.

Name an event and it's likely the Finely Turned quartet will be entertaining. Tania's a member, along with Evelyn Falconer, Marlene Badger and Sue Morrison.

"I'm the naughty one ... we have so much fun together."

She's been single for the past few years.

"I didn't imagine being single at 50, life comes with unexpected changes. My children are young adults now but still keep me on my toes. I don't like to set myself up as a paragon of virtue or a perfect parent, but I do know parenting is never easy, however that doesn't mean give up on your kids.

"In my work, I've long ago learnt that sometimes the best medical tool we have is a hug."

DR TANIA PINFOLD (NEE SINCLAIR)
Born: Tauranga, 1963
Education: Ōmokoroa, Te Puna, Otūmoetai Primaries, Otūmoetai Intermediate and College
Family: Two sons, daughter, two sisters
Interests: "Always singing, always listening to music, always jazz. Speaking French, "My good marks in French got me into med school. If I hear someone speaking French in the street I make excused to talk to them." Running "sporadically", the gym "on and off".
On Rotorua: "I love its diversity, here no one gets to have any inflated sense of self-importance."
On her life: "I've been lucky."
Personal philosophy: "It's not going to fix itself."