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Family over everything

Dr Nalini Kohlhagen has a passion for improving the standard of people’s health. Born and raised in Suva, Fiji, she has known since she was a little girl that she wanted to be a General Practitioner (GP). Now, after 23 years of practicing in Glasgow in various specialties, Nalini brings not just her family to New Zealand but her extensive background and experience in the hopes of improving the overall health of patients visiting The Fono Manurewa. 

At 18, after receiving a scholarship to study medicine at the University of Melbourne, Nalini moved from her little island nation of Fiji to Australia.

She spent six years in Melbourne, studying towards her Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) before moving to Scotland UK, less than a month after graduating. 

Nalini would spend the next 23 years of her life working as a doctor in the UK, going on to become a wife and mother as well. 

Having always known that she wanted to be a GP, Nalini took the time to become adept at various specialties including the Emergency Department, Paediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, General Medicine, General Surgery, Urology and Psychiatry, even working a Clinical Associate in Psychiatry, having been a GP Principal since the year 2000. 

“Thoughts of general practice didn’t come during my studies, or after,” Nalini insists, “it was always a career of choice.” 

However with the birth of her first, and then second daughter, Nalini and her German husband began to look beyond their careers. 

The pair weighed up their options, finding that as their daughters grew older it was becoming more important for them to have a family network to fall back on. 

“It’s important for them to integrate, with family and extended family,” Nalini advised, being near grandparents, uncles, aunties and cousins.

“In the UK we had none of that.”

Despite only being in New Zealand since June 2017 Nalini says moving here has been life changing,

“I’ve only been here four months but it feels like this is my home.” 

Moreover she says she’s made the best decision in choosing to work at The Fono Manurewa. 

“The team I’m working with, I cannot find a friendlier, more dedicated team. 

“It’s just so nice to have this team, where you can support each other through stressful, challenging times- like when patients come in with challenging problems.” 

Challenging problems like health literacy. 

“Health literacy is a big problem,” Nalini admits, “I find that a big challenge for me coming from the UK where health literacy is very high.” 

But there’s no problem too hard for Nalini as she navigates her way towards improving the health of her patients. 

She understands the need to take her patients’ cultures and families into consideration, and her island background makes it easier to relate to her patients, gain trust and build rapport with them. 

“Coming from that background you find that extended family is a very integral part of people’s lives here.” 

“Culture is very important for them, and you have to talk to them in a way that respects their culture as you explain nutrition, diet and exercise in a way that they can use daily, instead of it becoming a chore. 

“It has to become something that they can integrate into their lives as a whole – not just for them, but for their family.” 

Find out more 

Dr Nalini Kohlhagen 

The Fono South 

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