Inspiration leads to medical research careers

17 September 2015
Image of Dr Mataroria Lyndon (left) with Dr Renus Stowers
Dr Mataroria Lyndon (left) with Dr Renus Stowers
Image of Dr Daniel Lemanu
Dr Daniel Lemanu

For three talented young doctors, their training at the University of Auckland’s South Auckland Clinical School at Middlemore Hospital has inspired advanced study in medical research.

They are all involved in doctoral study to inform their clinical practice, due largely to the leadership of Assistant Dean of the South Auckland Clinical School, Professor Andrew Hill. It was his support and inspiration as a mentor that encouraged them to develop and broaden their careers.

“Professor Andrew Hill has been a driving force behind my academic career,” says Dr Renus Stowers. “Without his support, his belief and his confidence in me and my academic abilities, the decision to undertake doctoral studies would be a fleeting aspiration and a very distant goal.”

This sentiment is echoed by both of his peers, Dr Daniel Lemanu and Dr Mataroria Lyndon, who alike Dr Stowers, were also supported during their early medical training by the Maori and Pacific Admission Scheme (MAPAS) team.

This year they are completing their doctoral thesis based on research done alongside their clinical work at Middlemore.

  • Doctor Lemanu has finished his PhD and is now an orthopaedic registrar at North Shore Hospital.
  • Doctor Lyndon is completing his PhD and is working at Ko Awatea, Middlemore Hospital, before he starts a Master of Public Health degree at Harvard University in Boston in 2016.
  • Doctor Stowers is completing his PhD and is working at Ko Awatea, Middlemore Hospital,  and undertaking a postgraduate diploma in surgical anatomy.

Both Dr Lyndon and Dr Stowers were also this year awarded the Rose Hellaby Scholarship award of $30,000 to help fund their future studies. It’s a mark of Professor Hill’s success mentoring young doctors that both winners were from his research team at the South Auckland campus.

Dr Renus Stowers says he is busy recruiting for the final chapter of his thesis - a randomised controlled trial investigating a clotting agent) to reduce bleeding in total knee joint replacement surgery. The overall theme is to improve patient outcomes in hip and knee joint replacement surgery.

“At the end of the year I’m returning to full-time clinical work as an orthopaedic registrar somewhere in the Auckland region,” he says. I’m also studying for my part one surgical exams in February 2016 and shortly after this will apply for surgical training.”

Dr Stowers grew up in the Mangere-Otahuhu area, the eldest of five children. His mother is Maori (Ngapuhi, Te Rarawa, Ngati Awa) and his father is New Zealand-born Samoan (Apia).

“I attended local primary and intermediate schools, and along with two of my best mates at intermediate, we were fortunate to be awarded scholarships to Kings College for the five years of high school,” he says. “Without the scholarships my parents would not have been able to afford tuition.”

One of those mates was Dr Lemanu, and after Kings, they were accepted into the Auckland Medical School via a MAPAS intake.  “I’m truly grateful for the support that MAPAS provided through these years.  It was a particularly hard time for me being away from home for such a long period of time.”

As a child Renus had multiple corrective surgeries to his left leg and spine, so he was no stranger to the medical profession.

“My mother and father have always been supportive in what I do and I know they are very proud of the path I have chosen,” he says.

He graduated in 2010 and did many of his medical training placements at Middlemore Hospital.

“On several occasions when I was asked to take a medical history from a kuia or kaumatua who had come in with a cardiac, renal or respiratory problem, their first comment would be "are you a doctor?", he says. His answer was usually, ‘Not yet!’.

“These interactions during my training confirmed my place in medicine,” says Renus. “It was seeing a similar face and of a similar background that made me feel equally comfortable to interact and talk to them.”

Renus says he does research to inform his clinical practice. “If others feel that the findings of our research are applicable to their practice too, this is an added bonus,” he says.

For Dr Mataroria Lyndon, the mentoring and support from Professor Hill was also crucial in the path of his career.

This year he was accepted into Harvard University, won a Rose Hellaby Scholarship Award of $30,000, and is about to submit his doctoral thesis on ‘The impact of a medical curriculum and motivation and wellbeing among medical students.’

He has just returned from presenting the findings from his doctoral research at Association of Medical Education Conference in Europe, held in Glasgow (funded by grants from the John Logan Campbell Travel Grant and the Maurice Paykel Family Trust). He is now busy working at Middlemore Hospital and fundraising for the balance of funds needed to pay for his time at Harvard.

“I graduated from Auckland as a doctor in 2010 and then began as an intern at Middlemore,” says Mataroria. “I already had the sense that I wanted to do more than clinical practice and was looking for opportunities in the wider mahi in health.”

“During that first year Professor Hill asked me about my ambitions and gave me the opportunity to try clinically based research to see if I enjoyed it,” he says. “I was able to do part-time clinical practice and start doctoral research.”

“That experience of doing the research, meeting people through that process and being in the wider public health space has been great,” says Mataroria. “What I’ve noticed coming into the non-clinical space is there is quite an opportunity for clinicians in that space. There’s a need for clinicians who are leaders in the wider health and public health sectors.”

Mataroria was born and raised in Whangarei, and attended high school in South Auckland at Tangaroa College. He was then awarded a University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor’s Scholarship to study at Auckland. His tribal affiliations are to Ngati Hine in Northland and to Ngati Whatua and Waikato.

“We need more role models and mentors for Maori and Pacific students, and I hope to be one of those, who can help and support our young people into a health career,” he says. “It was an important part of my experience at medical school as it was such a different world there, and I’d like to be part of encouraging more Maori to take this on and join the health workforce.”

“I enrolled in medicine via the MAPAS programme, and now a wider commitment to public health feels right,” says Mataroria.

“In my own whanau, I can see I am already a role model for my young nieces and nephews,” he says.  “The benefits of increased health literacy extends to all my whanau.  I’m on call to them 24 hours/day. Just having a medical person in the family makes a difference and has a spill-over effect for whanau, our community and future generations.”

“The impact of health literacy and advocacy is both economically and in planting the seed for education and success to follow,” says Mataroria.

His doctoral thesis focussed on the medical curriculum and how it is rolled out and also how to engage more Maori and Pacific students to take up medicine and meet their needs.

“The experience of doing a big piece of research also has benefits for clinical practice, in both critical appraisal of treatments and methods of study,” he says.  “It’s got me reading a lot of scientific papers and applying those critical thinking skills from research to what I’m reading about new treatments.”

Orthopaedic registrar, Dr Daniel Lemanu (Te Rarawa), has just completed an excellent doctoral research thesis on ‘Perceptive management of patients undergoing obesity surgery’.  He says he enjoys the combination of clinical and academic work and is now certain that is what he would like to do in the future.

“I’d like to qualify as a surgeon and combine research and surgery, starting with a fellowship in orthopaedic surgery, carrying on my research, and maybe working at the University one day,” he says.    

Just the first part, becoming a surgeon involves a five to eight year fellowship training programme.

Daniel grew up in South Auckland, attended Kings College and intended to become a physiotherapist, but he was awarded a University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor’s Scholarship to study at Auckland.

“When I enquired about a physio course, they said they didn’t have one, but the closest one was medicine, so I decided to have a go,” he says.  He had an interview with the MAPAS team and did his pre-med first year in health science before being accepted into the medical programme.

He graduated with his MBCHB in November 2009 and spent his first year as a house surgeon at Middlemore Hospital.

“As a medical student I had done all my placements at Middlemore, except my fifth year which was in Orthopaedics.  As a trainee he joined Professor Hill’s team and did his medical registration.

“Towards the end of the first year Prof Hill asked me if I had ever considered doing research before and explained what it would involve, working as a house surgeon and doing half time in clinical and half time in research,” says Daniel. “He said if I enjoyed it, I could go on and do a PhD and if not, I would have some research papers that I could publish.  After doing research in that second year, I found I loved it and had a passion for research.”

Daniel says that under Prof Hill’s guidance, he felt supported in his training at Middlemore.

“He was an excellent mentor - someone I trust and I have a lot of time for what he thinks,” he says. “I had a few talks with Prof Hill about what I wanted from this vocation and how I enjoyed surgery and orthopaedic surgery especially.”

“He also explained that this research time was also a good time to reflect on what I wanted to do,” says Daniel. “I also did some work as a GP in Primary Care and in General Surgery as a registrar at Middlemore, but my true passion was in Orthopaedics, so I decided to carry on and do a PhD.

After he finished his research, he took a job as a registrar for the first six months at Auckland Hospital and is now at North Shore Hospital, still very much enjoying the combination of clinical and academic work.


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