2016's University of Otago Māori medical school graduates. (Image: supplied)

The Otago med school cap debate began ‘without input from Māori’

A public health professor at the University of Otago says a debate about capping Māori and Pasifika medical school admissions has come ‘out of the blue’. Te Aniwa Hurihanganui reports for RNZ.

Pressure is mounting on the University of Otago Medical School to front up to Māori and Pasifika about a proposal to cap admissions through the Māori entry pathway.

One of the designers of this scheme, Professor Peter Crampton, said it was tabled with a sense of urgency, and with no input from Māori.

The public health professor at the university is incredibly proud of Otago’s Mirror on Society policy, which aims to create a health workforce that reflects New Zealand’s diverse communities, particularly Māori and Pasifika. He helped create the policy in 2012 as the former pro vice-chancellor of the Division of Health Sciences.

“The university’s achievements with its health workforce development policy is widely celebrated and the university is rightly very proud of those achievements,” he said.

“We are definitely making a difference to the health workforce and changing the way the future will be in respect to the make-up of the workforce, and the university is very clear about celebrating those successes.”

The policy is indeed making a difference. Latest figures from the Medical Council Survey Report show the number of Māori graduates at Otago in 2018 almost doubled from the previous year to 42.

But there is still a long way to go. In 2018, Māori doctors made up just 3.5% of the workforce and Pasifika doctors made up 1.8%.

Crampton said he was not sure why aspects of the policy were suddenly up for debate. “From my point of view it has come a bit out of the blue. The issue was brought up with a sense of urgency and I’m not sure where that sense of urgency came from,” he said.

“It’s a good discussion to have. I think everyone welcomes discussions about the health workforce, and those discussions need to be driven off health workforce data and health outcomes data.”

But he said any discussion about the future of the health workforce needed to be informed by Māori and Pasifika. “Māori and Pacific leadership voices have been completely absent from the discussion so far and there is an urgent need to draw those voices in formally, both from a Treaty perspective but also from an expertise perspective,” he said.

“We can’t possibly talk about the future make-up of the health workforce unless we’re including the expert voices from those different perspectives.”

In a statement, the current pro-vice-chancellor of the health sciences, Professor Paul Brunton, admitted the associate dean Māori and the associate dean Pacific were not present at an initial meeting over the document, but did attend a subsequent meeting. He said if a formal proposal for change was developed, all stakeholders including Māori and Pacific representatives and students would be asked for feedback.

“The discussion document was initially presented to the Medical Admissions Committee last month. Professor Crampton is not a member of that committee, so he would not have seen the document. The committee decided at its most recent meeting that it would continue in coming weeks its deliberations over the discussion document. There is no formal timeframe for this process,” he said.

“When the paper was first presented for discussion to the Medical Admissions Committee there were representatives at the meeting standing in for the associate dean Māori and associate dean Pacific who are official members of the committee.

“If a formal proposal for change is developed, all stakeholders would be asked for feedback including Māori and Pacific representatives and student groups before any changes are made. The University of Otago is committed to consulting with its Māori and Pacific partners and other key stakeholders.”

But the president of the Māori Medical Students’ Association, Isaac Smiler, said students wanted to know now and were frustrated the vice-chancellor, Harlene Hayne, had so far refused to meet with them. “We know these policy changes are coming from the top of the university,” he said. “She has continued to block and deny us a chance to voice our concerns and to ask our questions.”

He said the situation was only strengthening the resolve of Māori and Pasifika students to make their mark at the university and in the workforce. “We are finding strength within ourselves and reminding ourselves that we will be as competent and as safe as any other graduate, and that our people need us.

“We are preparing ourselves to go out and serve our people.”

The vice-chancellor denies she has refused to meet with students. She said she would be happy to do this after they have discussed their concerns with the pro-vice-chancellor of the health sciences and the medical school dean.

Professor Peter Crampton said the university has developed strong relationships with Māori and Pacific communities over many years and it remained committed to ensuring those relationships endured.

The university has since revealed to RNZ it is facing a legal challenge against aspects of its medical admissions process but denies it has anything to do with the proposal.

This article first appeared on RNZ.




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