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Lance O’Sullivan (Ngāti Maru, Ngāpuhi, Te Rarawa) – Medicine (2000)


posted by Alastair McLean on 4 April 2012

From his first day at Auckland Medical School, Lance O’Sullivan knew he wanted to be a Māori doctor for Māori people.

Since his graduation in 2001, he has continued to maintain that original focus.

Being awarded the John McLeod Scholarship supported his belief that he had the potential to make a significant difference in Māori health.

‘Getting awarded scholarships brings monetary satisfaction, but I’ve always maintained the scholarships I’ve received have been about support – moral and cultural,’ he said.

‘Receiving the John McLeod Scholarship wouldn’t have meant as much if it hadn’t been a Māori scholarship.’

Lance decided early in his career that general practice was the best field for him.

‘I realised that emergency medicine was the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. Hospital medicine in general was reactive instead of proactive, and the best fit for me was general practice, where I could do the preventative stuff,’ he said.

Lance and his wife Tracy went to Rotorua after he graduated. The five years he spent there as a Resident Medical Officer, General Practitioner (GP) trainee and then newly qualified GP were ‘wonderful’.

‘I wanted to work in a community with a high Māori population and needs. Rotorua was a good stepping stone because even though there’s high need among high numbers of Māori in the community, it was a well-supported environment where I could cut my teeth, in medicine terms.’

It was his whakapapa to the Far North and a recognition that the region lacked medical staff and had not had a Māori GP for more than 20 years which helped persuade Lance and his young family to move to Kaitaia.

They’ve now been there for about seven years, with Lance working four days a week in general practice and one day in the local hospital as a Medical Officer Special Scale.

He loves his work, the community he lives and works in and the satisfaction of knowing he’s living his dream of actively contributing to improving Māori health.

‘My involvement in my community is an extension of the work I am doing in the clinic – helping our people to make important and lifestyle changes and to also feel proud of who they are,’  he said.

‘Living in a close-knit community such as Kaitaia among people who are patients but also friends of mine or my whanau gives me the privilege of having an important role.  The patients I see in our resuscitation room I will be likely to see at a rugby game, where we are both watching our tamariki.’

Keen to widen his sphere of influence, Lance has also become involved in regional and national population health events. This includes helping promote the Pharmac One Heart Many Lives programme and the more recent drive to eradicate rheumatic fever in the region.

It’s work that provides him with significant job satisfaction and he feels very fortunate to be able to do this among his own iwi.

Lance can name a long list of people who have been key supporters of his efforts over the years, starting with his parents and whānau, and his wife Tracy.

Doctors David Gilgen and David Tipene-Leach have also been influential.

And his patients have had a huge impact too.

‘The ones you aren’t able to save, that you lose to illness you wish you could have prevented – those are really important things,’ Lance said.

‘It strengthens your resolve to get ahead, to stop that from happening again.

‘I know that I’m doing what I love, the right thing in the right place. And I would be happy if I could do this for the next 20-30 years – that’s my plan.’