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Young doctor rewarded for work to improve global healthcare

30 October 2023

Roshit Bothara moved from Nepal to New Zealand as a seven-year-old and by the time he reached high school his dream was to become a medical doctor.

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He graduated from Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC) with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry before completing a medical degree at the University of Otago. Now a paediatric registrar working in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Christchurch Hospital, the 29-year-old is determined to make a difference for patients and their families, and to improve New Zealand’s health system.

“Contributing to and serving the community is important to me. I want to make good use of all the privileges I’ve had to create opportunities for others,” Bothara says.

While he was a medical student, he returned to Nepal to volunteer at Inaruwa District Hospital in the village where he grew up and saw patients waiting hours to get very basic healthcare.

SDG 3 Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 - Good Health and Well-being.

“I knew I could have been having that same life. I became very interested in what makes health systems good, and how we can make them better and make sure that everyone has opportunities for good health.”

His efforts towards that goal have been recognised by UC which has just awarded him an inaugural Young Alumni International Award. The new awards for outstanding graduates has been established to mark UC’s 150th anniversary this year.

After growing up in two worlds, Bothara is keen to find ways to help other trainee doctors learn empathy and understanding for patients from different cultures and backgrounds.

“It’s important for them to be good humans as well as good doctors,” he says.

As a research project during his medical degree honours year, he developed and implemented an initiative called the Global Health Classroom (GHC) to connect Kiwi medical students with their counterparts in Nepal, Samoa, and Fiji.

The programme, which has won several international awards including a prestigious teaching innovation award from the International Association for Health Professions in Switzerland, is still operating and allows New Zealand medical students to chat over video-conferencing with medical students in Fiji, sharing information about their health systems.

“It’s like a virtual elective of another health system and culture,” Bothara says. “They talk about what is impacting health outcomes in their country. Students get the chance to reflect on their own country and become more aware of the disparities that exist so we can address them better.”

He says New Zealand has “striking health inequities” and it is important that medical students have values of collaboration, cultural respect, and understanding. “Attitudes and values are the hardest attributes to teach. It’s been really good to see students develop these values from the GHC,” he says.

During high school Bothara worked as a cleaner, kitchenhand, and a caregiver for the elderly and he does not take the privileges of his current position lightly.

He says working with tiny babies in NICU is challenging but he loves the connections he experiences in the role.

“It’s a very challenging time for families. NICU is a fast-paced, intense place and slowing down to talk with families and explain everything can make the process easier. I find that so rewarding.

“I chose to specialise in paediatrics because when you ensure children have good health it creates an opportunity for them to go on and, through their lives, contribute to their communities.”

Bothara has been offered a full tuition scholarship to the prestigious Johns Hopkins University in the United States, where he plans to earn a master’s degree in public health next year.

UC Amokapua | Assistant Vice-Chancellor Engagement Brett Berquist says Bothara's achievements and goals align with UC’s vision of empowering people to make a difference.

“We are delighted to recognise Roshit for his humanistic approach, his commitment to improving healthcare, especially for the vulnerable, and his ability to lead positive social change. He is a deserving winner of our first Young Alumni International Award.”

Bothara says the award is exciting and feels like a return to his roots as a student at UC. “Studying biochemistry sparked my love of research. I had such amazing teachers at UC. Ultimately, I would love to have an academic career alongside my clinical work as a paediatrician and be able to influence health policy and management.”


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