Meet Joel Pirini – RHM registrar, father, rugby coach and past production assistant

29 March 2016

Joel Pirini was born and raised in Whangarei. In a past life he was television production assistant, now he’s a full-fledged father of four and practises as a GP and medical officer at Kataia hospital.

The way Joel sums up his weekly schedule at Kaitaia hospital makes us laugh. “I work as a medical officer for three days of the week and for two days of the week I work as a GP. So there’s just a corridor and on Monday, Tuesday Wednesday I turn right and on Thursdays and Fridays I turn left.”

After leaving high school, Joel wasn't quite sure what he wanted to do at university, "I had some friends that wanted to be accountants or lawyers and they all went into that training."

After his undergraduate degree in science, Joel's boss at the television company where he worked part-time said to him, "I can see you don't really know what you're doing, do you want to come work here for a couple of

years and figure it out?" So he worked there for two years which gave him the time and space to find his true calling in medicine.

Joel confirms that his time spent as a production assistant wasn’t as “glamorous” as we had thought, “I was a real dog’s body, and I was what they call a runner or a production assistant. You’re like making ads for toothpaste that will be on TV in Canada or something like that. So yeah nothing glamorous.”

Joel saw his wife’s passion for her work every day, and it was her that encouraged him to continue study.

It was the Maori and Pacific Admission Scheme that saw Joel get into medical school around 10 years ago now. “It looks at you holistically, your background, your connection with your culture and your academic achievement.”

We were wondering what Joel thinks are the key differences between his clinical roles, “The challenge of general practice is that you have people who are well when they come see you. In the hospital someone’s sick cos they’ve got a bad infection or something like that. They’re in a much more fragile and powerless situation.”

He expands, “The real challenge for me of general practice is when people are well, trying to give them a health message and make them aware that look – if we don’t do something about your blood pressure now or in 20 years’ time you’re going to come see me next door in the hospital because you’ve had a heart attack or a stroke.”

A lot of Joel’s work in the rural Kataia community involves risk stratification, identification and modification.

This year Joel will undertake a six-month placement at Rarotonga hospital which will finish off his clinical attachments and will be the real highlight of his training, he tells us.

“There will definitely be some learnings from the practice over there which I can bring back and use those in my own practice to see how I can make things better where I live and work.”

Joel is still trying to suss a placement at the island paradise of Aitutaki but tells us, “I’ll probably be last in the line, I’ll probably have to go to Aitutaki and injure myself if I wanna end up in the hospital there," he jokes.

“In the broader scheme of things I’m still a young doctor and I’m still really interested in finding out what patients want, what our communities want and what they need in terms of health provision.”

From a clinical perspective he tells us, “The appeal of being in a rural place is that you’re a generalist, you know a little bit about everything. You might have an area where you know a little bit more about it. You get to work in a team and from my experience it’s a true multidisciplinary team.”

We definitely observed the community focus on our trip, “We like to think that we’re more aware of a patient’s background because a lot of the time your patient is the guy that pumps your gas at the gas station or owns the dairy or is your neighbour,” Joel adds.

From a family perspective he shares, “I want them [his children] to grow up being aware and strong in their own culture.”

And to share some moments that made us go, “aww” - “That’s probably the best part of my day,  well there’s lot of good parts but the best part, is when I get home and my kids are there. They don’t know what your days been like, they’re just happy to see you, all they want to do is spend time with you and play with you and that’s a real bonus.”

Joel thanks his quote unquote his amazing wife for looking after their children, “She has the harder job out of the two of us, she stays home and she organises the kids and looks after them.”

The Pirini family lead a very active life, "There’s lots of swimming, fishing, surfing.”

Among other activities, Joel is the coach of his son’s rugby team and hopes to one day learn how to surf, “I’ve got long term goal to learn how to surf because I’ve got a surf board and wetsuit and I live at the beach so I don’t really have any excuses.” We think being busy may be an OK excuse in this case.