An International Journey Into a New Zealand Medical School-What a Rural Village Girl did.


The biggest names in New Zealand where I often get my inspiration stemmed from two prominent figures-they are both phenomenal successes in their own rights! With a long list of prestigious achievements and international honours, both these role models were Otago University (New Zealand) and Havard University (MA, USA) graduates. But more importantly, they came from rural areas and were classed with third world backgrounds. I honour and respect their backgrounds. I held them in high regards. Their attitude to working tirelessly resonated with me and my values.

Mai Chen, a prominent female immigrant lawyer who has been and is continually transforming the justice system and a huge advocator for Womens Rights ( I remembered her article in the NZ Herald that featured “Super Diverse Women are the Future.” For us women, we are continuously looking for role models in governance and management roles. Ultimately, it is about celebrating the achievements of women, recognising their experiences and contributions they are making to the local coomunities and New Zealand. (

Professor Swee Tan, a Plastic Surgeon has an inspirational story to heal our people and the world with his ability and surgical skills to treat strawberry birthmarks and tumours( He had a very similar background of being an immigrant too. Watch his transformational video here:

The process of getting into the Otago University School of Medicine has been relatively straight forward for me. There were clear instructions from the University website. On the eve of Waitangi Day NZ 2017, I launched a query into the Otago University for an expression of Interest School of Medicine.

Lyrebird Park Australia
The Australian Red Cross hosted the training called IMPACT. It was held here at Lyrebird Park in Melbourne 2017.

The year of 2017 was a particularly busy year for me especially undergoing training for International Humanitarian Work. By June 2017, I had completed and achieved a Certificate in IMPACT(International Mobilization & Preparation for ACTion) training for humanitarian work in Melbourne Australia. I was one of the first NZ trainees (along with our NZ International Programme Manager Aaron Davy) to be part of this training in Melbourne which had a few international delegates; many of these delegates were active field workers.

I was one of those with no experience of International Missions. But I had my Nursing background to back me up with Public Health and Community Nursing.

Murray Lloyd Photography
The first ever Ni-Vanuatu Woman, Leina Isno to serve with the NZ Red Cross and the International Red Cross was ready for her first deployment in 2017. Photo Credit: Murray Llyod Photography.

I knew this was going to be an extremely busy year for me. I delayed my applications again into the School of Medicine at the University of Otago.

Before the end of November 2017, I was confirmed for my first ever humanitarian mission with the International Red Cross. It was an emergency mission seconded to the Norwegian Red Cross. The mission was the Rohingya Crisis that happened in Myanmar. This was a defining moment of my career. I was deployed after 6 months of training with no humanitarian experience at all. But I felt trained with the right skills and expertise to be able to accept the challenge. My many years of surgical nursing experience has been beneficial. (Photo Images Credits to International Humanitarians Colleen Clark & Kathrine Lamark).

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I embraced the journey and the impact. This was a mission that broke me in every way! Yet, it built me up so much to be so much more stronger and resilient.

It was on this first humanitarian mission that spurred me into action.

An action that was life-changing.


Terrifying yet supportive as I battled with my own emotions towards what I was seeing with humanity.

The world is cruel. It is so cruel. So unjust. We need more good selfless people. The world needs more selfless individuals. Every little bit counts.

But I am grateful. Every day I am grateful. I am.

I remembered coming home from my first successful mission. It was christmas eve of 2017. Wellington city was quiet. It was almost Christmas. I think of my favourite carols “Silent Night.” I often make it a habit over the last few years to attend the Christmas eve service at the St Barnabas Church in Roseneath, overlooking Oriental Bay and Wellington harbour to sing Christmas Carols. I love singing Christmas Carols towards the lead up to Christmas. Theres something to be said about rekindling and reconnecting my spirituality again there despite not being a frequent church goer throughout the year.

‘Twas the night before Christmas with a ‘Silent Night’

silent night
A Silent Night. The Queen reminds us of the 2018 Christmas Holy Message Faith Family Friendships. Credit: Herald

Undoubtedly one of the most popular Christmas Carols, never failing to cast a spell with it’s soothing melody. It was almost haunting and eerie, yet reassuring as we sang our hearts out.

I remembered this dose of inspiration to put things into perspective tonight,

“the truth is that airports have seen more sincere kisses than wedding halls, and the walls of the hospitals have heard more prayers than the walls of a church.”
Faith. Family. Friendships. #queenschristmasmessage

Successful to me means I had worked a month straight with no days off under extreme environmental conditions. It was a completed mission. It meant my physical and mental fortitude were tested. They withstood the test of times. It stretched beyond it’s limits. It meant I did not even get sick with gastro-enteritis on the mission while the others did. My gut was intact. It meant my pre deployment vaccinations were effective despite being thrown to nurse and care in the midst of raging infectious diseases. It meant I came home in one piece.


I came home alive to my family and friends. I came home to be able to share my experiences and challenges with families, friends and strangers. I wanted everyone to be aware of the suffering, the despair, the brokeness and the hopelessness the world had given and done to some people. People who are far from us in this first world country. People who are far from us in a tropical South Pacific Paradise.

Lorbunwoi-A place I call home-a tropical paradise in Vanuatu. Photo Credit: Alcina Photography

The most memorable reflection I had was, sitting down in a side room on Christmas Eve at the New Zealand Red Cross House.

It had really hit me.

On the flight leg from Singapore to Auckland, one stranger who sat next to me turned and asked where I had been. The response that came out from the stranger was so touching. It made me very emotional when they discovered I had been helping out at one of the worlds biggest humanitarian crisis.

“Thank you. Thank you, on behalf of New Zealand.” came the reply from a complete stranger.

I sobbed.


Hard. It was the hardest. I poured my heart and soul out to the Psychologist who was listening for an hour. It was Christmas Eve. I filled up a whole bin of kleenex tissues. Tears flowed. They flowed freely. I sobbed. I buried my face with my hands. I sobbed even harder.

The Pschologist listened.

It was here that I reflected on some raw and confrontational descriptions of what I had come to see, witness and help out on my first ever humanitarian mission. I pledged to do a little bit more.

All for humanity’s sake.

Cox 3
As far as the eye can see, to the North, the South, the East and the West, this sprawling intensity of tarpauline housing exists with the worlds largest humanitarian crisis. Photo: Leina Isno

I was limited by my scope of practice. I needed to expand that scope of practice. The world needs more of us. Trust me, yes the world needs us. The world needs more selfless individuals, good and ethical humans like you. Like me. I needed to take action. I needed to act with compassion. I needed to show a little more kindness.

The year of 2018 became a time of transformational change for me. I was serious about recreating my future and what lied ahead. I was ready for another adventure. An adventure that would be life and career-changing. I did not care about the small talks anymore behind my back. Nothing mattered anymore. Nothing fazed me.

I stopped worrying. Worrying about little petty things. Things that made me bite my finger nails until they become almost infected. Things that made me scratch the scalp of my head until it bleeds a little. Things that made me scratch my eyes so bad they swell and become blood-shot. I was independent. I was matured. I was accountable. I had freedom. I also have a business card. It said a lot about me. I have invested a lot of my money into my own self-education and development. It has really helped me in the long run. The self-sacrifices have been worth it.

Cox 4
Above: In the scorching heat of more than 40 degrees, the rounded latrines are taken up the hills to build proper toilets for sanitation. They weigh up to 150kg! Photo: Leina Isno
Cox 5
Below: After registrations with the UN, the displaced are given 4 bamboo poles, some ropes and a tarpauline and are expected to walk for miles again to pitch their tents/homes. Photo: Leina Isno

An email to Otago University queried whether I would be qualified to even submit an application. It had a more revised professional and productive CV with a couple of media articles from the Vanuatu Daily Post (Vanuatu) and the Plimmerton Rotary Club (New Zealand). The response was positive. The process and the journey into this new chapter has began. I qualified to apply through three categories. Firstly, as a Graduate. Secondly through the Rural Category as I lived in an area classed as rural New Zealand. Thirdly, through the Pacific category as a Pasifika. I took the opportunity to apply through the Pacific Category with my ancestry connections.

A Refugee House
A typical house for a displaced family during the crisis. The entrepreneurship is huge as families struggle to make ends meet-crops are commonly grown on roof tops. During the monsoon seasons, there are huge mudslides, flooding, fires in the houses and an increased complex health problems. Photo: Leina Isno

Three key people were instrumental to supporting my applications through to the division of the Health Sciences. I needed some outstanding references to back me up with my applications. The newly established Vanuatu’s High Commissioner to New Zealand, His Excellency Johnson Naviti backed me up for Vanuatu’s huge demand for Medical Practitioners or simply, Doctors. The well established Pasifika General Practitioners of Wellington, family Mitikulenas supported me being a Female, a Minority and a Melanesian Woman to add to the diversity of the application. My good friend, an Independent Performance Consultant/Corporate Trainer & Facilitator Brett Childs (He is a Ukele enthusiast too) who thick and thin had supported me with so many Melanesian Community Events and providing that morale support. The endless amount of trips I have made to the Justice of the Peace who happens to be my neighbour and the Local City Councillor, Dale Williams has proven invaluble.

Murray Lloyd Photography
The High Commissioner of Vanuatu to New Zealand HE Mr Johnson Naviti supported my Medical Applications to the Otago School of Medicine in 2018. With him here is the Vanuatu’s MP Minister of Foreign Affairs Ralph Regenvanu as well as the Wellington Vanuatu Community. Photo Credit: Murray Lloyd Photography.

I am grateful to them all.


Before the end of July 2018, I flew down to the beautiful city of Dunedin for an hour long interview with 6 people from the University. We had a chairperson. I don’t recognise anyone. I was alone. I had a few interview tips from my good friend GP Dr Ciaran Edwards from Waiheke Island. Deeply nervous and almost shaking, I was the second person to be interviewed for the day. Questions ranged from skills that I bring to the University, the traits of being a Doctor, how to keep safe as a practitioner, mingling with Millenials and my experiences as a humanitarian and coping in challenging environments.

Seconded to the Finnish Red Cross from the NZ Red Cross, I flew out of the country a few days later to work on my second international humanitarian mission.

A resting haven for many of us humanitarian workers from the biggest humanitarian crisis. Photo: Leina Isno

The morning of August 31st 2018 is as memorable as I can remember. I was checking into the Oceans Paradise Hotel in Cox Bazar, Bangladesh. I had the biggest grin on my face. I turned to my good friend co-worker, the fantastic Australian expert Nurse Practitioner/Neonatal Clinican-“I got in Tracy! I got in!”

The letter merely stated “The Medical Admissions Committee is pleased to advise that you have been granted admission to second year classes in Medicine for 2020!”

The elation of joy was evident. I was overwhelmed. We celebrated with a slice of chocolate brownie. A good hot chocolate drink for me too. I couldn’t share my good news with my family. Not just yet.

It didn’t matter I hadn’t had proper sleep for the last few nights (lets face it who sleeps anyway on missions). The nights of having to listen to podcasts of #DirtyJohn and #AloneAloveStory to make me go to sleep were worth it. The work has been hard and challenging at times. Today was especially worth it. It was a day of celebration. I am going swimming in the pool. Then I am getting a massage followed by that hot shot drink of gin and tonic in a crowded bar somewhere at that hotel!

We celebrated with a pack of KFC on the crowded, often flooded stunk streets of Cox Bazar, Bangladesh.

It was worth it.

The beautiful sunset, the salty foam from the waves through the wind, the fine sand between my toes and the traditional latern lighting for the evening has been magical in the midst of a very tough humanitarian mission.

The Sunsets of Cox Bazar are some of the best in the World. Photo: Leina Isno

As I crept into my bed that evening, my heart raced a little faster.

I felt my eyes welled up. I felt the spirit of my ancestors in my hotel room.

I swear my grandfather Isno would have turned in his grave.

For the first time ever, family Isno will have a first medical doctor in their denemus tribe.





8 Replies to “An International Journey Into a New Zealand Medical School-What a Rural Village Girl did.”

  1. Awesome read about a very inspiring journey. You are a true role model. Keep up the good work and thank you for the encouragement to succeed that we all need to hear. ❤


  2. I can almost hear your sweet voice, Leina as i read your blog. It is really inspiring and very well written. Keep up and congratulations. May the good Lord guide and bless you in your new journey. Hoping to see you someday in other missiins. 😘😘😘


    1. Oh Lisa. You are so kind ❤ Thank you. It’s important to share what I have been through. This has been a healing element for me in terms of resettling back and transitioning into NZ and Vanuatu ❤💔❤💔❤


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