We were honoured to have Associate Professor Suzanne Pitama, Associate Dean (Māori) and Associate Professor at the University of Otago, Christchurch, as our speaker at the recent Indigenous Oration.
Professor Pitama created an interactive allegory of the journey towards the full integration of indigenous health into a medical curriculum by asking the audience to visualise the Scenic Alpine railway trip from Christchurch to the west coast. Six ‘passengers’ represented various moments in that journey, while other audience members donned orange vests and played the part of obstacles on that road.
A serious note underpinned the engaging nature of the event; reciting some of the difficulties or excuses often cited when embarking on the road to integration, Prof. Pitama referred to conversation with established medical practitioners on issues such as ‘the curriculum is already too crammed’, ‘prioritising Indigenous health means others may lose out’, ‘Indigenous patients are often not responsive to care protocols’ as well as noting the ongoing prevalence of the stereotype of the ‘angry Maori’ patient.
Professor Pitama noted that all issues can be overcome, through support from Faculty Deans, by removing literary barriers to improve access to health systems, challenging societal bias and working with communities to empower and get feedback to achieve sustainable health care protocols. Most importantly, embedding Indigenous knowledge into the curriculum develops advocates in the student body who realise that cultural competency can save lives and empower clinicians.