Tagata Pasifika

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since 1987

Gagana Samoa builds trust with patient-doctor relationship


Source: PMA Group

Junior doctor at Middlemore Hospital Tuipoloa Opetaia Aati is using his mother tongue, Samoan, to break down cultural barriers in medicine to help connect with his patients and better understand their medical needs or diagnosis. He has at least one medical consultation in Samoan a week and is happy he can be a familiar and approachable face for Pasifika coming into the hospital.

“Having fluency in Samoan was definitely a skill I wanted to incorporate into my profession. I know it acts as a form of bringing down the barriers between the doctor and the patient and brings us on the same level. There is a power discrepancy in patient-doctor relationships, knowing Samoan helps in this way with Samoan patients,” he says.

“I hope that speaking Samoan helps Pacific patients to feel comfortable enough to converse freely with me during consultations. It also allows me to form a relationship with their family, especially if there is a family member that is responsible for taking care of them. For me, I always feel a sense of connection that expresses⎯yes, we’re both not in our ‘home’ but our mutual language helps both parties feel connected and grounded.

Born in Moto’otua, Apia, Aati moved to New Zealand during his early schooling years. He’s always wanted to uplift Pasifika in his work and found medicine and health was the best pathway for him to do that.

The 33-year-old won the ProCare Top Year 5 Pacific Medical Student at last year’s SunPix Pacific Peoples Awards. He was also the recipient of the Pasifika Medical Association’s Dr Leopino Foliaki University of Auckland Scholarship.

Worth $10,000 per recipient, the scholarship is awarded to a Pacific male and female student in their sixth year of studying a Bachelor of Medicine and a Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) at the University of Auckland.

“I feel so privileged to have got the scholarship. It’s named after the late Dr Foliaki who holds a really important place within Pacific health so, I feel happy and proud that I have that kind of association with him.”

“When you start working and you begin meeting Pasifika clients at work, then you’ll understand how helpful you can be to your community,” he says.

“That patient relationship is definitely the highlight of my job too. I always used to think it was cheesy when doctors said that but it’s true. There can be quite a lot of bureaucracy in the job, lots of paper work, but meeting people in the community and patients is the best thing.”

Opening date for all 2020 scholarships is Monday 25 May 2020 and applications close on Friday 3 July 2020. Please see the link to apply:

2020 Scholarships

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