Samoan MBChB, Mosana Evagelia | Raising Pasifika Health Awareness in Aotearoa
Samoan MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) at the University of Otago, Mosana Evagelia, shares her experience pursuing a medical degree and her insight on the health disparities for Māori and Pasifika communities in Aotearoa New Zealand. She hopes to educate health professionals on the importance of cultural competency and raise Pasifika health awareness in her community.
Tell us about your background and where you grew up.
I was born in Tuvalu where my parents were missionaries before we moved to American Samoa when I was very young. There, my dad worked 2 jobs and my mom worked in an airline before they were called to serve as ministers in Utulei EFKAS Christian Congregation - something they have been doing for 22 years now! Thanks to their hard work, I was blessed to attend some great schools and received extra tutoring if needed. Looking back, it was hard completing my primary and secondary schooling in American Samoa as a non-U.S. citizen or American Samoan national as I wasn’t eligible for a lot of opportunities or scholarships.
I remember always being academically inclined. Seeing my parents’ hard work made me recognize the importance of doing well in school and eventually providing for my kids as well. After high school, I got a scholarship to attend Chaminade University of Honolulu where I studied Cellular and Molecular Biology. I wanted to further my academic career; however, realizing that I could not financially afford to do so in the States as an international student, I decided to move to New Zealand. Having missed the deadline for the next intake in medicine at the University of Otago, I continued on in science at the University of Auckland, where I received another degree in Biomedical Science. During this time, I was blessed to receive an interview and later on a place in medicine at the University of Otago. Fast forward 5 years, and I am now in my last year! It’s been quite a long journey!
What got you interested in medicine?
Mentors have been a crucial part of my academic experience. I remember having a supportive Samoan high school science teacher, and it was great to see a Samoan face teaching us about science, and it made me think: I can do this. Later in college, I had a teacher of Asian descent who encouraged me to pursue a career in medicine. Having those supportive teachers sparked something in me. That’s how I moved my way into the field of science.
But it wasn’t until I started volunteering at the local hospital in American Samoa where the fuel to study medicine ignited. I witnessed firsthand the high number of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity in my community - with elevated rates present even in children. This realization provoked me to do something - to actively be a part of the change that is needed, and I thought being a health professional will allow me to do just that.
What have you learned about Pacific health throughout your academic career?
Pacific health is my passion. I've learned that there are huge health disparities amongst indigenous populations and Pacific communities in Aotearoa New Zealand. I want to improve that in whatever capacity; whether it’s by raising awareness in Pacific communities about health, advocating for issues in the Pacific community, or helping increase cultural competency in the health industry.
For example, although it is important to encourage health professionals to pronounce Pasifika names correctly, I want to be able to challenge them to be aware of the marginalization data amongst the indigenous and Pasifika communities, and be able to use that data to mold the way they practice.
It can be really disheartening reading all the health statistics about Māori and Pasifika people, but it’s also crucial to recognize the work that our elders have done so far. We need to honor them by picking up where they left off.
What are your goals for the future?
I definitely want to stay in the health sector. Later on if an opportunity arises, I would love to go back and serve Samoa.
Do you have any advice for Pasifika students preparing for higher education?
You don’t need to know what you’re passionate about right now. Just remember though - to figure out what you’re passionate about, you need to be curious. Whenever you find something you are curious about, no matter how small, learn as much as you can about it.
A lot of young people are comparing themselves to others. It’s okay to pause and not jump into the fast lane. It’s okay to be catching up. A mile is a mile. Whether you’re going fast or slow, you’ll get to your goal in the end.
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