Dilworth alumnus studying medicine and advocating for disadvantaged peoples

For Dilworth old boy Hemi Kaka, the thought of studying medicine or even studying at university was something he believed to be out of reach when he was at school. Although he was driven and academically gifted, he knew he wasn’t going to be the next Dilworth Dux. Now in his fifth year of a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at the Dunedin Medical School, University of Otago, Hemi recently accepted a scholarship award at Dilworth Founders’ Day assembly to help him further his education.

Hemi always had a passion for science which he found to be interesting and stimulating. It wasn’t until he was approached by Whakapiki Ake, an initiative that aims to have equal representation for Māori in the health workforce, that he really saw medicine as a potential career pathway. Alongside his brother TeAue and fellow classmate Alex Karehana, Whakapiki Ake explained the entry pathways for school leavers hoping to study medicine. From that point on, Hemi focused on setting himself up for gaining entry into medicine. Hemi’s mother (who is a nurse), his teachers and friends all assisted in his decision-making process that led him to pursuing medicine.

Hemi Kaka receiving his David Beattie Award from Dilworth Trust Board Chairman Aaron Snodgrass at Founders' Day Assembly 2020

The journey through medical school certainly hasn’t come without sacrifices and challenges, the hardest being the time spent away from friends and family. “In my first year, I studied almost every waking moment” said Hemi. Since then, he has learnt to take a more balanced approach. He has learnt to manage his time and joined a social sports team to ensure he takes time away from his studies. Another thing that helped him in his first year was living in the halls of residence. It was a positive experience that he would recommend to anyone as he made a number of friends that both supported him and studied with him.

Something that Hemi is deeply passionate about is advocating for disadvantaged peoples in the Māori and Pasifika communities. Through his studies, Hemi has been alerted to the inequities in systems and disease processes. It’s something he feels medical professionals aren’t doing enough to address. “Constantly throughout my studies, I have heard the phrase “higher rates in Maori and Pasifika people”. Having lived in both a Māori and Pākehā household, I can relate to both Te Ao Māori and western culture. For me, everyone in New Zealand should be motivated to see equality and equity in our communities. As our founding document says, there should be equal rights for all peoples. I think I am privileged to hold a position where I can influence people and will advocate for minorities.”

Hemi was hoping to go on a placement to Samoa in September, however due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, this may be postponed. Although he’s still in his early days of study, his long term goal is to work in paediatrics in the future which he thinks will be a truly rewarding occupation.

When reflecting back on his time at Dilworth, Hemi sums up his experience by saying “I don’t know who I would be if I hadn’t attended Dilworth.” For Hemi, it’s not just the quality education that helped him reach his goal of studying medicine, it’s the skills he gained that allowed him to succeed - time management, leadership, confidence, problem solving, communication skills and diligence. Most importantly he acknowledges that without the support from the tertiary grant from Dilworth, he would not have been able to stay in the halls of residence, go on placement or purchase necessary equipment. “In short Dilworth gave me the tools to overcome the barriers faced by many low socioeconomic families” said Hemi.

There are three key pieces of advice that Hemi has for current Dilworth students and recent graduates. The first is to make the most of every opportunity. “I think the moment you enter Dilworth, you have infinite opportunities available to you, whether in the realms of sports, music or academics. Every great person starts off small and will overtime gain skills and knowledge. Just know that there is no replacement for hard work. Just do the mahi and get the treats.” The second, is to learn from failures. “I can guarantee that you will fail at something in your life and that's a good thing. For it's not how many times you have to try that people will remember but how many times you got up.” Lastly, he emphasises the importance of staying in touch with friends from school. “The people that you meet in school are friends for life. Since finishing school, I have had so much support from my peers. I would never have made it this far without my Dilworth brothers”.

May 14, 2020