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Maia Melbourne-Wilcox (Ngāi Tūhoe) - Medicine (2008)


posted by Alastair McLean on 4 April 2012

Trying to make difficult times easier for patients and their whānau is what motivates Maia Melbourne-Wilcox.

‘That’s why I can go into work day after day and put in all those long hours … being with patients, helping other people … it makes it all worthwhile,’ she said.

‘Getting to know these patients and their families is a privilege. You know how hard it is for them and you’re just trying to make things a little bit easier. I think that is a reward in itself.’

Maia was in her final year studying medicine and surgery at Auckland University when she was awarded the John McLeod Scholarship.

She was surprised and honoured by the accolade, never having considered herself ‘anything special’. 

Her whānau were `absolutely thrilled.’ 

‘They were possibly as surprised as I was – we keep each other grounded and level headed.  It was very much a team effort right from the very beginning. If it wasn’t for my whānau, I wouldn’t have been able to be there. So they were very honoured and proud as well.’

Maia was very thankful for the financial benefits of the award. ‘The reality was that it meant less stress and, more importantly, time with my children and whānau.’ 

She was also humbled to have external validation of her work and efforts.

‘I’ve always had a commitment to Māori health and about things being fair and just,’ she said.

‘There are disparities in all areas of health, but people are just so quick to judge and blame… often ignoring the upstream events that have influenced the health of groups of people, sometimes over many generations.

‘All you have to know about my daughter is that she’s Māori and that means almost 10 years off her life expectancy, and this stays true regardless of her socio-economic status or level of education. There has to be something wrong with that. It’s so unjust.’ 

Maia is currently working as a senior house officer at Auckland Hospital, rotating through different specialties. She hasn’t yet chosen her specialty, but likes getting to know her patients and the idea of continuity of care.

‘I believe it is important in trying to keep people well, preventing them from having to come back into hospital.’

She also believes that being able to relate to people from different walks of life in a non-judgemental way is very important in health.

‘One of my teachers once said that as doctors we all have personalities or a particular type of person that we struggle with. You just need to be aware and acknowledge it.   You have to keep yourself in-check and make sure you offer them the same opportunities as the next person. I think our health system would be a better place if it did work like that.’

The mother of three tells people thinking about a career in medicine that it will provide amazing opportunities.

‘But it’s not glamorous and it’s not beautiful and it’s not flash,’ she said.

‘It’s hard emotionally, but it also has its rewards. And those are huge …’

Maia acknowledges she has a lot to learn as she continues her career path and the work-life balancing act of being a wife, mother and daughter.

‘You have to keep learning and things change all the time in terms of management and treatments. So you have to keep up with those changes and continue educating yourself,’ she said.

‘But you also get to meet families and children, and children’s children. I can see it being fulfilling forever.’