When Samoan GP, Dr Maryann Heather, lost her father to a sudden heart attack when she was 18 years old, it inspired her to become a doctor so she could honour him and help her community.
“At that moment, I felt helpless because there was nothing I could do for my father. That’s when I made a promise to myself and my family to become a doctor, so I wouldn’t feel helpless anymore.”
Dr Heather, who was born and raised in Wellington, has kept her promise by forging a successful career in medicine.
After graduating from Auckland Medical School, she has had a range of experiences working in New Zealand, Australia, Samoa and China specialising in general medicine, primary care and Pacific health. She currently works as a GP at the South Seas Healthcare Clinic in Auckland and is a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland.
“When I became a GP, I loved it because I got to work with Pacific families from different generations. I also speak Samoan and Tongan, and my consultations are mostly in those languages, which gives me that special connection.”
Dr Heather will be one of the guest speakers at the next Pasifika Health Leaders Webinar hosted by the Pasifika Medical Association (PMA). She will share with PMA members her journey to becoming a doctor and aims to inspire Pacific students who are currently studying at medical school to understand they are not alone and that there are other Pacific medical professionals who have walked in their shoes.
She says it can be difficult for Pacific medical students because they must walk in two worlds – one derived of their culture and the other within a westernised medical fraternity. But she says hearing from senior Pacific doctors who are successful in their fields can help them.
“We have the added pressure of being Pacific. We carry the weight of our community and our families on our shoulders. If we fail, they fail. If we succeed, they succeed. By default, we become leaders in our community.
But it’s something that has enriched my life and has kept me grounded. For our younger Pacific doctors, it’s part of the struggle, having your feet in both worlds and knowing how to navigate that and give back to the community.”
In terms of getting into medical school, it took two years for Dr Heather to be accepted. She says it’s the failures that have made her stronger as a doctor.
“It’s normal for our journey to be up and down. I’ve had successes and failures, but I’ve always kept the end goal in my mind. I wanted to become a doctor to help the Pacific community and to let them know that they deserve access to good healthcare.”
She’s looking forward to the leaders webinar to talk about her career and the support you receive as a member of the PMA.
“It’s great to have the support of like-minded Pacific professionals who are there with you during your training to when you become a specialist and beyond. The PMA is more than a network, it’s also a family.”
The upcoming Pasifika Health Leaders Webinar is on Wednesday 14 October 2020. It starts at 5pm, with opening remarks from the president of the PMA, Dr Kiki Maoate ONZM FRACS, followed by a facilitated discussion with Dr Heather and her fellow colleagues, Dr Ella Nicholas and Dr Fiona Perelini.
Please join the session in person at one of the designated hospitals or campus locations or tune in online via zoom. Please see the following link for registration and webinar information including details of locations and zoom link: http://pacifichealth.org.nz/membership-task/
Date: Monday 12 October 2020