Graduating in absentia, Cook Islands May 2021
Among the many students graduating from Otago University this year is Dr Vakaola Mafi who is being awarded (in absentia, in the Cook Islands) the Postgraduate Diploma in Rural and Provincial Hospital Medicine https://www.otago.ac.nz/courses/qualifications/pgdiprphp.html
Mafi, as he is known to friends and colleagues is the first Pacific Island Country-based doctor to complete the largely distance-taught diploma. His study was facilitated under an MOU between the Cook Islands Ministry of Health and the University of Otago.
Mafi grew up in Tonga and completed his medical degree at Fiji National University. He moved to the Cook Islands with his wife (who is also a doctor) seven years ago, working as a general medical practitioner both in Aitutaki and Rarotonga.
In 2016, with limited postgraduate clinical training options open to him , he began to study in the Otago Postgraduate Rural programme by distance. Determined to reach his goal, he worked steadily at completing individual papers one at a time, studying in his own time alongside his full time clinical commitments.
Mafi’s achievement is all the more significant in that his final paper was completed entirely virtually due to the Covid pandemic: when he was unable to travel to the 5-day residential in Taranaki, a virtual link-in was created by the rural postgraduate faculty. While far from optimal, the virtual connection ensured his continued access to study.
For Mafi the best aspects of his study have been gaining connections and friendships with rural and GP colleagues in New Zealand and others in the Pacific, gaining a peer group. The biggest gain has been learning relevant evidence-based practice to a NZ standard which he can apply in his daily practice. His thanks go to his family who have supported him throughout .