PMA Scholarships 2021: Dr Robert Woonton – a life dedicated to Pacific health

Medical doctor and former Cook Islands Prime Minister, Dr Robert Woonton, has accomplished many milestones in his career and has devoted his life to serving the Pacific community here in NZ and in the Pacific region.

Amongst his many achievements, Dr Woonton says that one of his proudest moments was fighting for a Whānau Ora commissioning agency to cater for the heath needs of Pacific people which eventually led to the establishment of Pasifika Futures.

“It’s such a privilege to be given this scholarship honour. From the beginning, Dr Joe Williams and I have been strong advocates and supporters for a Whānau Ora commissioning agency for our Pacific people.

We fought hard for it and was involved with many of the pilot programmes and communicated with many kaumatua and representatives from Te Puni Kōkiri. This was our major contribution.”

Dr Woonton was a GP in the Cook Islands and a Member of Parliament for the island of Manihiki. He held various ministerial roles and eventually became Prime Minister of the Cook Islands in 2002.

Despite his illustrious political career, Dr Woonton says his priorities and passion has always been centred around the health and wellbeing of Pacific people.

“My heart has always belonged to medicine. Our people have always struggled to get the best care. I would like to see our youngsters choose medicine as a lifetime commitment. It’s hard work but it’s achievable.”

Dr Woonton also acknowledges that his positions of leadership came at the sacrifice of time with his family. But after 23 years living in the Cook Islands, the father-of-three decided to leave and return to New Zealand and focus on being a father to his young son.

“I had been of service and given my time to my people. I left the Cook Islands because I decided that I owed it to my wife and that my family needed me.”

On his return, he continued to work as a doctor and was appointed to various prominent positions such as the High Commissioner to New Zealand and the Auckland City Council’s inaugural Pacific People’s Advisory Panel.

The Dr Robert Woonton Scholarship is valued at $10,000 and will be awarded to an indigenous Pacific medical student accepted into specialist training in their first or second year of formal studies.

To apply for the Dr Robert Woonton Scholarship and other PMA Scholarships, please visit the link below. Please note that all PMA Scholarship applications close this FRIDAY 25 JUNE so get in quick!


Date: Tuesday 22 June 2021