Health disparities in Samoa piques interest in medicine

posted: 7:00 pm - 28th June 2020
Mosanna Evagalia

(Picture caption: Pasifika Medical Association Scholar Mosana Evagilia says the scholarship has been a huge help on her journey to a career in medicine.) 

Growing up in Samoa, 28-year-old Mosana Evagelia recalls her experience of volunteering in hospitals as piquing her interest in a career in medicine.

“I was 16 at the time and I volunteered in our local hospital during the holidays,” Mosana says.

“I remember realising most of the doctors working there were not Samoan, they were American or Filipino - I would usually have to translate between the doctors and patients.”

Mosana witnessed a lot of health disparities in children and when her younger sister got sick with rheumatic fever which progressed to rheumatic heart disease, she knew a career in medicine would allow her to work and improve health care for Pacific people.

Before coming to New Zealand, Mosana completed a degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology at Honolulu’s Chaminade University.  

However, given the expense of education in the United States, she decided to further her study and pursue her dream in New Zealand.

In 2019, she received the Pasifika Medical Association’s (PMA) Papali’i Dr Semisi Ma’ia’i University of Otago Scholarship.

The late Papali’i Dr Semisi Ma’ia’i was the only Samoan practitioner working in Auckland in the 1970’s.

Many Samoan patients came from far and wide to be treated by him as many did not speak English or understand the medical terms used by doctors.

He is remembered as using medicine and the Samoan language to change lives.

The PMA scholarship named after him is worth $5,000 per recipient and is awarded to a Pacific male and female student in their fifth year of studying a Bachelor of Medicine and a Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) at the University of Otago School of Medicine.

The scholarship has since helped Mosana cover relocation costs from Christchurch to work as a first-year health officer at Middlemore Hospital.

It has also covered financial costs, allowing her to complete her elective working in hospitals in Samoa.

Mosana has flown her parents from Samoa to New Zealand, especially for her graduation.

Although still deciding what to specialise in, Mosana enjoys general medicine but she also has a special interest in public health as well.

“From working in the hospital, you see a lot things that can be done in terms of preventative medicine in the community,” she says.

“I would really like to work in areas that prevent health conditions happening rather than working down-stream and having to fix health conditions that could have been avoided.”

Mosana encourages other Pacific people to persevere in their studies in medicine despite the many prejudices they may face on their journey.

“The journey is hard, it’s tough and it’s challenging.

“It’s important to remember and know your why and that should motivate you regardless of what negative noise surrounds you.”

A PMA Scholarship can assist you in so many ways on your journey to becoming a medical professional.  

All 2020 PMA scholarships are now open and applications close on July 3, 2020. Apply HERE.