Māori and Pacific pathways into medical school create equity and would not be needed if we didn't have a racist education system, University of Auckland senior lecturer Dr Rhys Jones says.
There is growing concern over a discussion document being considered by the University of Otago to limit medical school admissions for Māori and Pacific students through its Māori and Pacific entry pathways.
Neither pathway - designed to boost the number of Māori and Pasifika in the health workforce - has a limit.
Dr Jones, a public health physician, said the pathways were important and necessary to create equity of opportunity.
"For those people who are wanting to become health professionals in New Zealand, we have an education system and a broader society that systematically privileges Pākehā and systematically disadvantages Māori and Pasifika," he said.
"If applicants to health professional programmes are going to be selected based primarily on their academic grades, then that will systematically discriminate against Māori and Pacific people who are applying to those programmes.
"In an ideal world, we wouldn't need specific Māori and Pacific pathways - in other words, if we didn't have a racist education system and a racist society - but that's not the reality, unfortunately. Unless we do something to counteract the impact of those racist systems we're going to perpetuate those discriminatory outcomes."
He said Māori and Pasifika continued to be under-served by the health system.
"We know that our healthcare system in New Zealand contributes to inequities in health outcomes for Māori and Pacific people. There's vast amounts of evidence from every corner of our health system that you're more likely to receive poorer quality care if you're Māori or Pacific going into the system, so we really need to transform our healthcare system to be pro-equity and anti-racist," he said.
"One of the approaches for doing that is to increase the number of Māori and Pacific doctors and health professionals, to create a work force that is culturally safe and more reflective of the population."
Dr Jones acknowledged increasing the number of Māori health professionals wouldn't achieve equity in healthcare on its own, but he said it was a crucial step in the right direction.
"There's only limited benefit that can be gained from having more brown faces in a white system but if we can establish a critical mass of Māori and Pacific health professionals in every part of our health system and at every level, equipped with the right skills and a commitment to transform and decolonise healthcare, then that will be an important part of what we need to move towards equity in the health system."