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Akuira Whaanga

Dentist student

Akuira Whaanga wants to improve the statistics on poor oral health for Māori

By Akuira Whaanga with Amokura Panoho

Ko Mauao te maunga  — Mauao is my mountain
Ko Tauranga te Moana — Tauranga my sea
Ko Takitimu te waka — Takitimu is my canoe
Ko Ngāti Ranginui te iwi — Ngāti Rangi my tribe
Ko Ngāti Kahu te hapū — Ngāti Kahu is my subtribe
Ko Wairoa te Marae  — Wairoa is my marae

My twin sister, Maioha, and I transitioned from a small wharekura to Tauranga Girls High School, with over 1500 students, where our passion for science strengthened. Initially we were both inclined towards medicine. Then I discovered dentistry through a high school program, a path further encouraged by my mother and a two-year church mission, that helped prepare me for the challenges ahead at the University of Otago Dental School.

The decision to pursue dentistry over medicine was not easy as I was accepted into both fields. But then my husband James, who along with my sister was also studying towards a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor Surgery (MB ChB), and I recognised the pressing need for more Māori representation in the dental industry. 

My time at dental school has been a period of growth, marked by feelings of isolation as a Māori student in an underrepresented field. However, these experiences didn’t hold me back; rather, driving me to advocate for change and greater diversity. Serving as the educational representative for the Ngā Mokai o Ngā Whetu, Māori Dental Students Association, I found a voice and a platform to foster change.

I am now into my third year of a five year programme, navigating the demanding life of a dental student, and I lean heavily on my support system. That unwavering support from my family, the grounding presence of my faith, and a disciplined daily routine are my pillars of strength. They are crucial in maintaining my focus, especially when balancing academic responsibilities with personal well-being.

I believe in the power of interpersonal skills, approachability, and reliability in the field of dentistry. By sharing my pride for my culture in this environment, I want to inspire others to see themselves in this sector contributing to Māori oral health.

Akuira’s tips

  • Develop strong interpersonal and problem-solving skills
  • Self-belief, passion along with time management discipline are important
  • Māori identity is your strength

Akuira’s pathway

  • Church Mission
  • Ngā Mokai o Ngā Whetu – Māori Dental Students Association
  • University of Otago Dental School
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