Potential dentists graduating from Otago University represent about 20 ethnic groups.
Educating them about the role that culture plays in health and wellbeing is important in a multi-cultural country, says an Māori academic.
Professor John Broughton from the Faculty of Dentistry says many students are not born in New Zealand with 15, for example, coming from an international university in Malaysia.
One way to educate them is through placements with iwi health providers such as Tui Ora.
The Taranaki health and social service provider signed a memorandum of agreement with the university on February 17 formalising an existing relationship.
“So we take a lot of time in preparing students before they go out.We have a programme over three years where we engage with the Māori community.”
This helps them experience dentistry in the “real world.”
“They have an opportunity to engage with patients and their whānau first hand.
“The provision of dental services is not a one size fits all.There are different providers, organisations and settings in which dental care is delivered.Plus they have to do everything including clean up after themselves.”
Professor Broughton says oral health is one part of health and wellbeing, and procedures around the mouth and face require cultural sensitivity for some people.
Not only that, there may be other health issues impacting on oral hygiene.“As students we try to get them to consider those other factors as much as possible.
“Does the person smoke? Is there concern around diet and nutrition?
“Dentistry has tended to be very focused on the treatment but there’s a person behind the mouth. Four people might come in to an appointment but there’s only one patient booked in, so having to engage with the whole whānau – that’s a consideration.”
This year each cohort of students will spend five weeks in Taranaki.They shadow staff in a range of services ranging from asthma education and outreach immunisation to fitness programmes and active movement for toddlers.There’s also a chance to visit marae and regional language trust Te Reo O Taranaki.
One student who took part in the programme in 2015 was Sasha Antunovic.
“We do know that there is deprivation and Māori are over-represented in health inequalities and we know that we need to specialize services for them because cultural beliefs are different.”
While she grew up in New Plymouth and has a father who is a dentist, she was not familiar with the scope of work carried out by Tui Ora.Being on placement with some of its staff was therefore a chance to see a Māori health provider in action.
Professor Peter Crampton, Pro Vice-Chancellor Health Sciences Division and Dean of the Otago Medical School said the university took its accountability very seriously.
One measure of that was ensuring students represented the country geographically with 80 per cent coming from outside the South Island.
Others were an even spread of female and male students, of socio-economic factors and of ethnicity.
The university was making good progress on the last front with 15% of its dentistry students Māori and 8% Pasifika.
“We feel some sense of accountability to achieve these objectives.We wouldn’t achieve it without these relationships and trust from iwi.”
There was already a shared history between the university and Taranaki iwi.The country’s first Māori doctors were from Taranaki with Sir Peter Buck studying at Otago University.
And the history of Parihaka was intertwined with Otago, as local Māori transported there in the 1880s were jailed in cells and caves on Otago Peninsula but cared for by people in Dunedin.
“We value being here.I would like to leave the conversation open around other work we do.”
As well as providing opportunities for dental student placements the partnership allows for collaboration into Māori health issues and research projects relevant to those in Taranaki. In addition, Otago will provide pastoral, academic and support services for students of Taranaki who attend the university.