5 March 2018
Dr Api Talemaitoga has had a diverse career to date. In previous roles he’s worked as the personal physician to the President of Fiji, been employed as a senior public servant by the Ministry of Health, and served on the College Board.
And he has no intention of stopping anytime soon. In the future, Api – who is also the Chair of the College’s Pacific Chapter – plans to spend more time with Pacific students, encouraging them to make the most of their careers.
“I was lucky, I knew I wanted to be a GP. It was just the ‘how’ that was not clear in my head,” says Api.
“I’d like to help people to figure that part out. Show them: this is how I did it. Ask them: what are your options? Encourage them: Look at it this way. Mentor them and link them up: here is a person that is just a little bit older than you.
“I find that if people are left to their own devices, we lose them to the system.”
Left: College President Dr Tim Malloy awards Api his Distinguished Fellowship | Right: Api with fellow award recipient Dr Sirovai Fuata'i
As if laying the groundwork for a future generation of GPs wasn’t challenging enough, Api also splits his time between practices in Christchurch and South Auckland.
Api started his Christchurch practice 25 years ago, and it has grown into a stable family practice in the years since.
The Auckland practice he works in is situated in the heart of South Auckland’s industrial area. Api says he enjoys working in a practice that provides occupational health services.
“The majority of my patients are Māori and Pacific men, and I sometimes feel sorry for them when I ambush them.
“They think it’s a five-minute prostate exam organised by their employer, but then I’m there saying to them: Have you thought about what your health will be like in 10 years’ time?”
“I ask them: what will happen when you stop playing rugby? When the weight comes on? You know, this is what kills our people.”
He finds the preventative health message is often received well by his patients, and many have asked to transfer to the South Auckland practice permanently.
“They feel it is the beginning of a relationship, that you are involving them in thinking about their health.”
Api served on the College Board for three years, with his term ending in 2017.
Despite the differences between the two practices, Api says the joys and rewards of general practice are evident in both.
“The commonality between the two practices is how grateful patients are when you take the time to explain what is happening to them, and support them as they cope with the diagnosis, or the new medication, or the illness.
“I sometimes can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this job, because it’s so much fun.
“I enjoy it when my patients, who I have seen grow from childhood to adolescence, come into the practice and bring their new partners in life, or their children. For me that is the lovely part of the job.”
In 2017 Api was awarded a Distinguished Fellowship for outstanding and sustained services to the College and medical profession.
Dr Sue Crengle and Dr Kēri Rātima submitted the nomination, and noted that “Despite his list of impressive achievements and skills, Api is also known for his humility and willingness to contribute.”
Api says the moment that he learned of the nomination was very special.
“I was sitting in bed on a Sunday morning, when I thought that I had better read my board papers,” he says.
“I came to the Awards nomination section, and I saw my name. I just burst into tears.
“To have that recognition by your peers, to be endorsed by your organisation – it’s a real highlight.”
Nominations are now open for the 2018 College Awards. If you would like to nominate a colleague and recognise them for their work, please visit the Awards webpage.