Māori teenager Koan Hemana to study medicine at Harvard College in US

By Pokere Paewai RNZ

A student from Rotorua will become only the second Māori ever to study medicine at Harvard.

Koan Hemana of Rotorua Boys' High School will study at Harvard College in Boston, US, with the hope of eventually getting into its prestigious post-grad medical school.

The dire shortage of Māori medical practitioners was what drove him to be of service to his local community, he said.

"I'm very passionate about Māori health inequities. We dominate the wrong side of health in this country, suffering more from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, suicide and things like that. I've witnessed that within my own family."

"And me being a part of the indigenous people, the Māori people, it's sort of served as a motivator to want to make change - or at least contribute as much as I possibly can."

Hemana said Harvard was an obvious choice, because it had the best resources and would give him the best first step to achieving his goals.

Seeing a family friend accepted into Harvard last year inspired him to try the same.

"It completely changed the game. Here's someone I can see, someone who's similar to me, similar heritage, and he's doing it - so it's definitely achievable."

Last year, Hemana won the Te Ara a Kupe Beaton Scholarship, which gives Māori students the resources to apply for and attend universities abroad.

Hemana said that both he and his family were finding it hard to believe it was really happening.

"It's very much just all settling in at this point. I still can't really accept reality and believe that this is actually happening.

"We've already scheduled a two-week-long trip just to tour a little part of the US before they drop me off. I guess we'll see some tears there and it'll definitely change the family dynamic."