Not many 17-year-olds get an opportunity to see open heart surgery up close, but that's exactly what St Catherines student Hana Burkitt got to do as part of a week-long placement at Wellington Hospital, through the Kia Ora Hauora - Rangatahi ki te Ao (RKTA) programme.

The Kia Ora Hauora Career Pathway Programme is a partnership between Te Whatu Ora Capital, Coast and Hutt Valley and Kia Ora Hauora (KOH) Central Region, to promote, support and implement a pipeline for rangatahi Māori into health careers.

The programme centres on kaupapa Māori principles and values, for example tikanga, manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga and offers aspiring Māori high school students an opportunity to spend a week observing health professions like dental, diabetes service, nursing, radiation therapy and surgery.

For Hana, who is studying Chemistry, Biology, Calculus, Te Reo Rangatira and Religious Education, the experience, was eye-opening.

"I haven't always been interested in health, and I was never one to say out loud that I was going to be a Doctor but seeing some of my whānau die as a result of illness that could have been prevented, like cancer, smoking, mental health, because they didn't understand what was available to support them, has really made me think about health as a career," Hana explains.

"In year 12 I was involved in the KOH Work Observation Day initiative and got to see a clinic offering dental checks for whānau targeting five-to-12-year-olds. This year I was fortunate to be able to do my placement focused on surgery.

"It was amazing. I thought I was squeamish but observing open-heart surgery was a privilege – it's not something that happens and I got to see it because I was participating in the programme so am very grateful for that opportunity. It has put that fire in me, to be a surgeon or an anaesthetist. That's the pathway I'm now looking at.

So, what were some of the learnings from her work experience week?

"You can achieve what you want if you set your mind to it, focus and work hard," adds Hana, who has this year won an Otago on Campus Experience scholarship to Otago University to observe health science, and now has her sights set on Medical School.

"Health provides an opportunity to give back to our communities and for me, this pathway could hopefully help me to better support my whānau as well as encourage more Māori rangatahi to look at a career in health."

Her advice to other rangatahi who have an interest in health but may not have the confidence to pursue it, is simple.

"Go for it. It's not glamorous and it is not Grey's Anatomy or those TV medical shows. It's hard work and it will take determination but if it's your dream, there are opportunities like the KOH programme, that provide an opening to learn more about the health pathway. Be proactive, apply for programmes that will get you to where you want to go."