Dr Arbutus (Arby) Mitikulena (pictured) says his life dedicated to serving the Pacific community has been inspired by his father and the desire to empower and uplift Pacific peoples.
Recognised for services to health and the Pacific community for close to three decades in the New Year’s Honours, the Niuean doctor and co-founder of Niue Kaufakalataha Wellington Region and Mitikulena Family Healthcare Ltd trading as Kilbirnie Medical Centre, has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM).
“My Dad was my primary inspiration to enter Medicine. He would have been the first Niuean to do medicine at the Fiji School of Medicine had he been given the opportunity by the Director of Education at the time in Niue,” Arby says.
Throughout his extensive medical training and career, Arby has endured hearing people’s comments such as “Pacific people are second class citizens", which continuously remind him of why he became a doctor, and why he serves to empower his people, he adds.
Born in Niue in 1946 and named after a British war ship, Arby first visited New Zealand on a government scholarship in 1962 and was sent to Greymouth High School before attending Fiji School of Medicine to study Pharmacy, then Medicine from 1966 to 1974.
Upon graduating in 1974, Arby returned to Niue with his Samoan wife – a Registered Nurse - who he met while training in Fiji and four children soon followed.
That same year, Arby started work as a Medical Officer at Niue’s Lord Liverpool Hospital, spent a year at Apia Hospital as a Paediatric Registrar, and returned to Niue in 1981.
In 1982 he gained a postgraduate qualification in Obstetrics from the Auckland School of Medicine at the National Women’s’ hospital and later became the Director of Health of Niue in 1984.
During the late 80s, Arby decided in order to be the “jack of all trades” he needed to complete postgraduate training in Public Health Medicine.
He gained a postgraduate Diploma in Community Health (DComH) in 1992 at Otago Medical School in Wellington and at this time, Arby and his wife resigned from their roles in Niue so they could provide close support for their eldest son, Alvin who was doing Medicine at the Otago Medical School in Dunedin.
While studying for a Master of Public Health (with a thesis on Pacific people with Diabetes) Arby worked with the then Public Health Commission and Ministry of Health, along with numerous advisory groups, where he was involved in projects to do with Pacific people's health in Wellington and around New Zealand.
“While pursuing those postgraduate qualifications, I learned a lot about the health status of our Pacific People,” Arby says.
“One of the Consultants I worked under made a comment, ‘that for Pacific People to better their health status they need to have more doctors out there in the community’.
“I was certainly moved but all I could do at the time is pray our three children would all complete their medical studies and one day we will own and operate our own medical centre.”
In 2010, Arby, his wife and son, Alvin established Mitikulena Family Healthcare Ltd.
He has since poured his energy into providing health care to all New Zealanders, with emphasis on Pacific and Māori patients and their families, as well as the disadvantaged.
The clinic is truly a family affair.
“Our three older children are General Practitioners, and my wife and I are the Managers/Administrators,” he says.
“My youngest sister is the Practice Nurse and one of my nieces is the Receptionist.
“I have also been involved as a Personal Health Educator for our patients with Long Term Conditions, especially Pacific and Māori patients.”
Being made a MNZM has been a very special moment for Arby, he says.
“I am the first person of my siblings and our families to be awarded this honour and I am also very happy to know that I have achieved something my fellow Niueans here and in Niue can and may aspire to.
“I know as a Pacific person here in New Zealand this is a great honour - especially being a minority here in this blessed nation, our second home.”
Arby has many more goals he wants to achieve in his career including establishing and strengthening personal and total health education, encouraging and empowering Pacific families to make voluntary behaviour changes, make healthier choices and live healthier lives.
“Last but not least, I look forward with hope for the day, God willing, when the health status of our Pacific people will be at such a level where we, as Pacific people will live healthier, happier and successful lives in this beautiful and blessed country, Aotearoa, New Zealand.”