The National University of Samoa continue to elevate its School of Medicine with the recruitment of three new lecturers in six different areas in medical studies.

The Vice Chancellor and President of N.U.S, Prof. Fui Leapai Ilaoa Lau Asofou So’o says it’s one thing to push for the School of Medicine to raise the bar, but to ensure that it meets the gender balance that N.U.S has been advocating for.

The three new lectures are Drs Aigaeiva Sesega, Belladonna Potoi, and Salote Va’ai.

The V.C says having these three women teach a vital part of the Bachelors of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery Programme (M.B.B.S) will only strengthen the core of the University’s goal to produce quality students.

“This is a huge plus for the University and especially the students that we teach. N.U.S is capitalizing on the best we have and to have these ladies join our workforce, it’s crucial,” he said.

Meanwhile, the School of Medicine has just taken in the highest intake of students for the programme since it started, including three international students.

Dr Belladonna Potoi says the most important part being able to teach at the S.O.M is training the future doctors of Samoa.

“It means a lot for us to be able to teach here at N.U.S to give back to our country,” she said.

Dr. Belladonna Potoi is a fellow in the Royal Australian College of Physicians with vast experience in internal medicine and primary healthcare.

Dr Salote Vaai labelled her appointment nostalgic.

“We were all students of N.U.S and to come back here and give back to the University, it really is a great feeling,” she said.

Dr Vaai holds postgraduates Diplomas in obstetrics, gynaecology and public health from the University of Auckland, while Dr Sesega is a paediatrician specialist and holds a postgraduates diploma in child health.

The recruitment of the three has also highlighted the need for more medical professionals in Samoa. A vision that Dr Potoi says is a collaborative effort between the people and the University.

She says that while the conversation and concerns over the salaries of medical practitioners in Samoa is very visible, it also expresses the definite need for more local doctors and nurses in Samoa.

Dr Vaai agrees and says not only is it a matter of medical professional’s salaries, but the number of hours that they work.

A case the university Vice Chancellor and President called self-exploitation.

“Some of them are working beyond a reasonable and safe amount of hours and this is because of the need for more practitioners in the field,” said Dr Potoi.

“This is why the University is pushing its accreditation and striving to keep raising the bar on the standard that S.O.M is at, because we know what needs to be done, and we can provide,” said prof. Fui.

Dr Potoi says the vision is to produce local doctors who serve within the medical field in Samoa with the same quality as those overseas. A vision that Prof. Fui says is closer to being met with the rate the School of Medicine is growing.

“Give it five years. In five years our first batch of qualified doctors will graduate we will be able to up the service in the medical profession in Samoa,” he said.

Dr Potoi and Vaai say the biggest issue is that the numbers of doctors has yet to meet the number of hours needed to cater to the public. All the more reason for the School of Medicine to succeed and had accredited doctors.

However, the Vice Chancellor says that comes with its concerns.

“Its one thing to have our students accredited not only regionally but internationally but another to face the brain drain phenomenon,” he said.

Prof. Fui claims once S.O.M is recognized not only regionally, but on a larger scale, the chances of local graduates choosing to move overseas for employment also rises and it yields another concern.

A concern that he says can be alleviated with a rise in student medical interests joining the School of Medicine.

The recruitment of staff to fill the relevant specialist fields of teaching in the School of Medicine is the University priority in anticipation to prepare the School for local and international accreditation. Three additional clinicians have been recruited to fill the six specialist areas of clinical teaching for the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) programme.

The six specialist areas include paediatrics, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, public health, primary health and intensive care medicine. The appointment of the three clinicians is a new model of appointment introducing the full time expected (FTE) for example 0.3 or 0.4 of the total number of hours a week expected of an individual to perform the duties and responsibilities required for the job.

In 2018, Aiono Dr Alec Ekeroma was appointed the founding Professor of the School. Professor Ekeroma holds the highest qualification of PhD in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Dr Osborne Nyandiva whose teaching capacity encompasses pathology and clinical forensic medicine was recruited shortly after the appointment of Aiono. Like Professor Ekeroma, Dr Nyandiva holds a PhD in Oncology and Pathology. Later in the same year, Asiata Dr Satupa’itea Viali joined the teaching team. Being a former Dean and lecturer in medicine, Asiata brings to the School vast experience academically and clinically in the specialist field of cardiovascular and rheumatic heart disease. Asiata holds a Master of Public Health and Fellows in the Royal Australian College of Physicians, European Society of Cardiology and Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand.

In early 2019, Mr Lawal Olayemi who holds a Master Degree in Medical Biology was appointed. Four other specialist fields of teaching in the preclinical years of the programme will be delivered online starting in July by selected academics from the University of Otago, Faculty of Health Sciences. Two scientists from the Scientific Research Organization of Samoa (SROS) will be engaged in July to supplement the online teachings from the University of Otago for the Biochemistry & Genetics course.

The new recruits increase the number of the current teaching team of the School to twelve comprising of 9 full time and 3 part time staff. The full time team of nine staff is made up of the new recruits plus the existing teaching team comprising of Tuigamala Dr Stanley Dean, Dr Dyxon Hansell and Mr Keresoma Leaupepe who is currently on PDL to pursue PhD in biochemistry and genetics.    

In preparation for accreditation, the School engaged in 2015 and 2017 the Western Pacific Association for Medical Education (WPAME) to carry out two external evaluations for the MBBS programme. The recommendations from the two external reviews highlighted the need to increase the population of staff with the relevant expertise to teach the programme. The search for specialists began in late 2018 and since then seven specialist lecturers are on board with a few remaining full time teaching positions to fill which includes Pharmacology. The University anticipates by the end of this academic year the School of Medicine will have on board a fully-fledged academic team to deliver a quality medical programme that conforms to national and international standards for medical education.