Soon-to-be doctor Jordan Tewhaiti-Smith on how he left the Mongrel Mob behind for medicine

Soon-to-be doctor Jordan Tewhaiti-Smith on how he left the Mongrel Mob behind for medicine
Photo credit: Getty/Newshub.

A soon-to-be doctor says it took immense strength to turn his back on a potential gang future and pursue the path of medicine. 

Jordan Tewhaiti-Smith is one 39 Māori medical graduands taking part in a pre-graduation ceremony on Friday at the University of Otago.

Coming from a family with strong ties to the Mongrel Mob, though not a member himself, Tewhaiti-Smith is anything but a normal medical school graduate.

But with a lot of hard work and support from his community, the 23-year-old says the challenge of studying medicine has made him stronger.

"It's been bloody hard, especially the last six years," says Tewhaiti-Smith. "Going through secondary school, that was easy, it was a breeze, but going through the university system was by far, at times, one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done."

As well as the academic challenges, Tewhaiti-Smith says he faced accusations of preferential treatment, experienced institutional biases and sometimes faced outright racism.

He will graduate with a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery.

Tewhaiti-Smith was inspired to turn to medicine after having a negative run-in with the medical system when his younger sister was born prematurely.

Aged 15 at the time, Tewhaiti-Smith spent four months making daily visits to the neonatal intensive care unit at Dunedin Hospital, where he says he witnessed inequality in the way Māori were treated in the health system.

"There was a lot judgment from doctors and nurses due to us being Māori. There were also a lot of negative perceptions within our family about the health system and what it had to offer and that it didn't really work for us."

Determined to change that, Tewhaiti-Smith, with the support of Kia ora Hauroa, the national Māori health workforce development programme, then started to question how he could play a role in changing that. 

“I want to change the outlook that Māori have within the health system in New Zealand. As a clinician, that’s where you see Māori - they are coming into contact with clinicians, that’s where I can make a difference," he says.

After graduating, Tewhaiti-Smith will take up a one-year position as a house officer at Christchurch Public Hospital, where he will spend six months doing general medicine followed by time in general surgery and the ear, nose and throat department.

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