Celebrate and honour Global Health People

Taking a shine to New Zealand

Diana Isabel Tapia Rengifo at the University of Otago Business School in Dunedin.

A Peruvian dentist with a social conscience has travelled all the way to New Zealand to further her education and hopes one day to help others to start surgeries anywhere in the world.

Diana Isabel Tapia Rengifo (29) is studying for a Master of Business Administration (MBA), endorsed in health management, at the University of Otago in Dunedin.

Starting young and building her own surgery

Dr Tapia’s story began years ago in Peru when she was about 13 years old and had orthodontic treatment. She liked visiting the dentist so much that she wanted to become one.

Caring hands … Dr Tapia with a paediatric patient at her private practice in Peru.
Photo: supplied.

After qualifying as a dentist, she began working for private clinics. She was very young and patients queried whether she really was the dentist! She built her confidence, particularly in talking with her patients about their needs.

“You have to get a consensus,” she says.

Patients in these clinics asked her to treat them and so emerged the idea of her own surgery, where she could choose how she treated and charged patients. Again, her childhood was an influence.

My grandfather was a GP and I liked when patients went to the house to see him. I wanted the same for me.”

After saving, she bought her own dental chair and equipment.

“Little by little I started with my dental chair …. ”

Dr Tapia rented an empty space and worked on setting up a clinic, down to details such as buying screws. She hadn’t even finished setting up, when patients arrived wanting treatment.

Her family helped her financially to establish the surgery. She said the clinic was difficult to manage because she considered the patients as friends, yet she needed to make a financial return.

She realised she needed more experience and training in how to manage a clinic from a business point of view.

“I wanted to give the best, but at the same time I didn’t know how to do the finance,” she explains.

Having concluded that the business training available in Peru was similar to what she already knew, Dr Tapia looked much further afield – to New Zealand.

New Zealand’s dentistry is of a ‘great world standard’, she says.

Despite her surgery achieving its best year in terms of patients and revenue, she was determined to come to New Zealand. She received a work visa; completed the majority of her patients’ treatment; then sold all her dental equipment, including that precious chair.

Off to do charity work in New Zealand

In 2016, Dr Tapia flew almost 11,000 km to New Zealand and landed in Christchurch, where her family has contacts.

She says registering to work as a dentist in New Zealand is a long and involved process. However, she is able to work as a dental nurse. In Peru, she’d taken part in medical missions for people with no access to dental care, mainly in rural areas.

Dr Tapia as a volunteer dentist during a medical mission in Peru in 2015.
Photo: Dr. César Rutté.

So, Dr Tapia offered to assist at the Canterbury Charity Hospital. When she turned up, the manager was happy.

She just put her arms [wide] like this and she hugged me. This was from the sky. That was a great starting point, at the hospital. I was with open mouth, but nobody knows it, because of mask!”

The Peruvian dentist served as a volunteer dental nurse for six to eight months at the hospital, caring for people who needed urgent treatment and couldn’t afford private costs.

Visa conditions required changing paid employment every three months, so she worked as a dental nurse at clinics in Christchurch, then clinics and hospitals in Wellington and Auckland.

She’s impressed by how New Zealand patients trust their dentists, also by the teamwork between dentists and their assistants.

In February 2017, she began studying full time at the University of Otago in Dunedin. She works 20 hours a week as a dental nurse at the Faculty of Dentistry, and also supervises students there, and encourages them to relate well to patients.

Dr Tapia points out where she studies in Dunedin on Annie Baird’s 1991 work University of Otago.

Once she’s gained her MBA next year, the warm-hearted Peruvian would like to specialise and build her own surgery, again, while applying all she’s learned.

Dr Tapia also dreams of leading dental teams at that faculty, and of helping new university graduates build their own surgeries anywhere in the world.

“In the future, I want to help people that start like me.”

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