The Pasifika Medical Association launches six scholarships to assist Pacific people into medical and health careers

The Pasifika Medical Association (PMA) celebrated more than twenty years of progress and launched six scholarships to assist Pacific people into medical and health careers at a ball and dinner in Auckland on Friday 20th July. This reflects the work that PMA has been engaged in for many years in supporting the Pacific health workforce to grow.



Two hundred and seventy people attended the gala occasion held at the Cordis hotel, which saw six new scholarships launched by the PMA. The scholarships range from one that helps top female and male Pacific students undertaking health science study at Otahuhu College into health science careers; to assistance for the top male and female students at both Auckland and Otago Medical Schools. Scholarships are being awarded too to top Pacific nursing students.


The scholarships have all been named after life members of the PMA who have given exemplary service to improving the health of Pacific people in New Zealand or the region.


One of the scholarships will help Pacific doctors and nurses to undergo post graduate study internationally.


Two of the scholarships commemorate the work of the late Drs Leopino Foliaki from Tonga and Sir Terepai Maoate from the Cook Islands. Another recognises the work of the late Christina Tapu who for more than 20 years worked tireessly for Pacific health as a nurse, a cultural adviser, mentor, educator and team leader.


The past and ongoing work of three current life members are recognised by scholarships too.


Samoan born Papaali’i Dr Semisi Ma’ia’i was the only Samoan GP in Auckland in the 1970s. As well as his decades of medical service, when he became aware of the barriers many Samoan patients face when dealing with doctors, he began writing a glossary that translated common medical terms into Samoan.


This developed into a passion to preserve the Samoan language and culture, which after forty years work resulted in the publication of the first ever bilingual Samoan/English dictionary in 2010.


Tongan born Violani ‘Ilolahia Wills has had a long nursing career with general, maternity and midwife experience. In 1975 she was appointed charge nurse of the neo natal intensive care ward at Wellington Hospital, and remarkably spent 24 years in that demanding role.



The final scholarship recognises the distinguished service of the current Chief Executive of the PMA – New Zealand born Tongan Debbie Sorensen.


Like her colleagues, Debbie has undertaken a plethora of roles in the health profession from hands-on clinical work to administration and advisory roles to governments in New Zealand and around the Pacific; developing policy and breaking down barriers.


The scholarships are:


The “Sorensen Pacific Health Scholarship” will be available to the top female and male students at the Health Science Academy established by the PMA at Otahuhu College, which paves the way for entry into a health science career.


The “Dr Leopino Foliaki University of Auckland Scholarship” is available to the top Pacific female and male students at the Auckland Medical School.


The “Papaali’i Dr Semisi Ma’ia’i University of Otago Scholarship” is available to the top Pacific male and female students at the Otago Medical School.


Two scholarships are being made available for Top Pacific Nursing Students;

The “Christina Atoa Tapu Nursing Scholarship” and the “Violani ‘Ilolahia Wills Nursing Scholarship”.


The final scholarship is the “Sir Terepai Tuamure Maoate International Study Award” and is available for a Pacific doctor or Pacific nurse to undertake international post graduate study.