Pasifika, Maori boost in health sciences

A focus by the University of Otago on recruiting Maori and Pacific Islander health sciences students has resulted in their numbers soaring in the past six years.

An analysis of Otago students published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today confirmed the rise in Maori and Pacific Island student numbers, as well as highlighting that women outnumber men by almost two to one in the health sciences professional programme.

Medical School dean Peter Crampton, who co-wrote the article, said more diversity in the student population was a good thing, as those future doctors, dentists and medical professionals would graduate to treat a wide range of people.

"International evidence indicates that diversity among health professionals is beneficial for meeting the health needs of diverse populations."

In 2012, health sciences implemented a "mirror on society" selection policy, with the intention of increasing the number of Maori and Pacific Island students, and also attracting more students from rural or socially deprived backgrounds.

The NZMJ article compared the 2012 student body with those enrolled in 2016, and found a 124% increase in the proportion of Maori students in health sciences, and 121% increase in the proportion of Pacific students.

Maori students rose from 271 to 417, while Pacific students from 127 to 202.

"The increases in Maori and Pacific student numbers have been driven by specific strategies aimed at increased engagement with Maori and Pacific communities and investment in structures and processes for academic attainment," Prof Crampton said.

With many Maori and Pacific Islanders coming from socioeconomically deprived neighbourhoods, the school had managed to slightly increase its number of students from poorer areas - but not enough to satisfy Prof Crampton.

He called the marginal increase in students from schools ranked decile 4 or below "disappointing" and hoped more could be done to improve that.

"Other challenges could include, for example, the consideration of the role of selection policies in promoting the participation of students with disabilities and in increasing gender diversity."

Despite the historic male dominance of medicine, the 2016 data showed what Prof Crampton called the "increasing feminisation" of the health professions.

That trend was already apparent in 2010 when 59.6% of students were women: six years later that had risen to 61.3%. For some professional groups, such as medicine and dentistry, feminisation represents a complete reversal of historical gender patterns," he said.

Senior analyst Naomi Weaver and health sciences director of policy and programme Andrea Howard co-authored the study.