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Dr Teuila Percival is now a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, following her recognition in the King’s Birthday Honours. Photo: SUPPLIED

From Thames to the Pacific for Dame Teuila

For Dr Teuila Percival, the health and wellbeing of Pacific people, particularly children, has been a life-long passion.
The newly-appointed Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit has spent her career caring for the Pacific community.
“I grew up in Thames, and my mum and dad were radiographers at Thames Hospital,” Dame Teuila said.
“Back in those days there was a real sort of community feel to the hospital. I used to go after school and hang around the department.”
Medicine was a comfortable space, she said, and when she developed an interest in science, going to medical school was the obvious choice of career.

“I love clinical work, it’s my main job,” Dame Teuila said.
“I’m a front line paediatrician, I work at Middlemore in ED and in the wards.”
The Samoan health-care provider, who now lives in Auckland, has spent years researching and developing Pacifika-centric healthcare programmes and services. She was a founding member of South Seas Healthcare in Ōtara and the Pacific Medical Association.
She was also involved with the start-up and running of several community services, including a child obesity clinic, Mana Kids school clinics, Moana Connect and school nursing programmes.
“When I started off as a young doctor there was very little awareness or involvement of Pacific people in their own health and the development of healthcare for themselves,” Dame Teuila said.
“[These programmes] work really well with Pacific families and high-need families and they provide really good care for them.
“The outstanding example is the Covid-19 pandemic and how the Pacific community and the providers really worked together. They were kind of left out of the initial planning but once they became involved and got resourced they stood up fantastic services.

“Pacific people had really, really high vaccination rates, they set up services where they looked after Covid patients in the home, they had a huge centre for immunisation, they did really fantastic testing and tracing for their own community.”
Dame Teuila has been no stranger to other disaster events either.
She spends time every year working in clinics in Niue, Samoa, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and other Pacific Islands, and a few times found herself stationed in the midst of a crisis.
“I’ve developed an interest in responding to disasters from a doctor’s point of view. I’ve worked in the 2009 tsunami, Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu, so I’m really interested in how we look after children in disasters. And that’s really important to New Zealand too because we’re getting more and more extreme weather events [here].”
Countries like Tuvalu often have very limited resources, she said, and it’s a different kind of medicine.
“You have to go back to the old fashioned clinical skills you might have had when you were a young doctor, and you don’t have CT scans down the corridor like you do here.
“You have to be prepared to practise medicine in a different way … and work pretty hard.”
Dame Teuila said the work was always very enjoyable no matter where she happened to be, and that was in large part due to the people.
“I always find a great sense of collegiality in whatever I do, no matter what the context. So work might be hard, but it’s nice work because you’ve got good people that you work with,” she said.
Her praise for the people extended beyond the workplace too, with the acknowledgement of her family.
“We can’t do anything without our family, they’re a big team that you return to when times are tough or when times are really good, so I am always very grateful for my family and the support they give me.”