PMA Scholar: ‘I want to make dentistry more affordable for our community’

17 June 2020

Nineteen-year-old Ateliana Taufa, is on a mission to make treatments and visits to the dentist more affordable for her community.

Currently in her second year of studying a Bachelor of Oral Health at the University of Otago she admits it’s going to be a long journey but knows her end goal is to eventually open her own dentist clinic in South Auckland.

“Going to the dentist can be so expensive, that’s why so many people avoid going there. I would like to establish my own clinic with the aim of making treatments more affordable.”

Taufa is a recipient of the 2019 Pasifika Medical Association’s (PMA) Sorensen Pacific Health Scholarship that is awarded to a Pacific male and female student of the Otahuhu College STEM Programme and worth $5,000 each.

“I was surprised when I got the scholarship. I called my grandmother who was overseas at the time and I felt like she wanted to come back home straight away and congratulate me,” Taufa says.

“The scholarship is going towards my university accommodation costs.”

Born in the Kingdom of Tonga, Taufa’s parents encouraged her to spend six months in New Zealand every year until she was 13 and eventually moved to New Zealand permanently with her grandmother and elder brother to start high school.

“They wanted me to grow up in Tonga knowing the culture but at the same time be educated in New Zealand and improve my English. I feel like it was the right thing for my parents to do. Especially now going to a predominately European university, knowing my culture and my language makes me feel so proud to be a Pacific Islander and a Tongan. In our fifth year of study we get to see dental clients and I know I’ll be able to speak with some of them in Tongan and help connect with the community that way.”

Debbie Sorensen is the Chief Executive of the Pasifika Medical Association, the Chief Executive of Pasifika Futures Whānau Ora Commissioning agency and the Managing Director of Health Specialists Ltd. She is a New Zealand born Tongan who trained as a Psychiatric Nurse. Debbie has dedicated her professional career transforming Pacific health by leading and developing innovative and unique solutions to challenges facing Pacific populations in the South Pacific and around the world. She has worked in the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. She is an expert in leading Pacific communities and organisations through health crises and has served her expertise in international agencies including the World Bank, SPC, AusAID, NZAID and WHO. Debbie currently acts as an advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Health Tonga and the Minister of Health Fiji. She is an advocate and supporter for developing more skilled Pasifika in health and mentoring them to navigate through their medical careers. In 2019, she was one of the winners for The NZ Women of Influence awards for Public Policy.

All 2020 PMA scholarships are now open and applications close on Friday 3 July 2020.

Please see the link to apply:


Date: Wednesday 17 June 2020