Māori and Pasifika medical numbers up but still underrepresented - study

A new study has shown that despite decades of efforts to boost the number of Māori and Pasifika doctors, they remain underrepresented in the country’s medical schools.

The number of Māori doctors in New Zealand has risen from 2.3% of doctors in 2000 to 4.7% in 2023 but still falls below the population’s 16.5% Māori representation.

The percentage of Pasifika doctors is gradually increasing, currently at 2.2% of all doctors but still below the overall Pasifika population of 8.2%.

Professor Warwick Bagg from the University of Auckland, who is leading the study, says one barrier preventing more Māori and Pasifika students from entering medicine is the educational system not being fit.

‘A system that’s not serving them well’

“What we see is that students, through no fault of their own, are not getting the educational excellence that they deserve to encourage them to continue to study STEM subjects and those that are necessary to enter disciplines like medicine.

“There’s a system that’s not serving them well, and we need to continue to improve that system.”

Bagg says the doctor numbers should reflect the society they take an oath to serve in to have the greatest positive impact on health outcomes.

He believes that the numbers should mirror the demographics of Māori.

“The age group that we’re looking at is between ages 19 and 26. In the North Island that’s about 40% of Māori and Pacific peoples so we have a long way to go.

“What’s also been shown, in terms of health outcomes, is that when you have a cultural concordant - someone you can relate to - you’re much likely to get better health outcomes. That’s not only local but also international evidence.

“The bottom line is that there are several reasons why we need to have a diverse health workforce that represents all of Aotearoa, New Zealand.”

Though there are university schemes and programmes, such as MAPAS, helping to increase the numbers and put them in higher positions, Bagg says there needs to be more.

“We need to have greater numbers, greater influence, that’s our commitment to do that.”