For Dr Aniva Lawrence, supporting her community isn’t just about caring for patients, it’s also about inspiring the next generation of health professionals.
Earlier this year, she took up the role of University of Auckland Academic Coordinator at the Northland Clinical Site in Whangārei, a position that ties in her love of big picture thinking, mentorship, and promoting primary care as a pathway for medical students.
“As a coordinator, I’m a conduit between the students, the teachers, and the supervisors across all departments at the hospital, as well as those in primary care and rural health,” she says.
“I navigate any issues that might arise from an assessment perspective with the students, hold regular meetings with students and create a space for them to come in and talk with me about any challenges they have. Medicine isn’t an easy career, so it’s always great to be able to share learnings and assist people along the way.
“Also, for me, it was significant to have a Māori or Pasifika clinician in a non-Māori or Pasifika role within the university. Often, we’re in areas that only work within Māori or Pacific health, and it’s great to be able to have conversations in the mainstream space.”
A Samoan Kiwi who grew up in South Auckland, Aniva graduated from Auckland Medical School, completed her house officer years at Middlemore Hospital and began her GP training in Ōtara. It was her interest in youth health, as well as guidance from encouraging mentors, that led her to general practice.
“I had a really good GP myself as a young person and met with some really inspiring primary health practitioners as I came through my training,” she says. “One of them was Dr Juliet Walker, a Samoan GP who helped me through my fellowship with the College. These people have really supported me in my journey, and also helped to facilitate other learning opportunities for me in the leadership space too.”
Aniva is an active participant in the College’s Pasifika Chapter and also the Chair of the National Advisory Council. She’s finishing the role in June, but says the experience offered invaluable learnings.
“Working with awesome Pacific GPs, who are doing amazing things throughout the country, was another aspect that gave me the confidence to step up as a leader. I’m a lot about the bigger picture, and for me that means being able to influence in spheres of training, policy development, frontline development and frontline service delivery. It’s about taking the skills I’ve learnt along the way and using them as widely as possible.”
These days, Aniva works closely with the small Auckland University team based in Northland, while still working as a general practitioner 2.5 days a week. Alongside her husband, a physiotherapist, the couple co-own a GP clinic in Tikipunga, Whangārei.
She says building strong connections with patients and their whanau is one of the biggest “joys of general practice”, while increasing IT demands, ever-growing levels of paperwork and managing the constant information flow are among the challenges.
For Aniva, the sharp decline in the number of Kiwi graduates choosing primary care is a key concern. “Getting better exposure for primary care is a big area of emphasis for me, because often when students are training, they just don't have a significant amount of mentorship, or visibility of primary care and what those roles look like.”
With a demanding workload and a busy family life with three teenage sons, Aniva’s schedule is packed to the brim. But she says the Academic Coordinator opportunity came at just the right time.
“It’s busy, but it’s great. Now that my kids are a bit older, it felt like the ideal time to learn new skills, form new networks and take another journey. I think it’s important to learn new things in every pathway you take. It’s a bit like going on a hike, sometimes the hills can be hard, but it always pays off when you see the scenery!”