Meet Samoa's first Oral Pathology specialist

A woman with roots in Fugalei, Salelologa and Salailua Savai'i has broken new grounds for Samoa.  

Elizabeth Tauati Williams is Samoa's first Oral Pathology Specialist and she is not stopping there.

The 36-year-old’s academic journey initially began with Biochemistry and after a few twists and turns, she ended up in Fiji to pursue a five-year Bachelor in Dentistry Surgery, through a World Health Organisation sponsorship.

In 2013, she got a scholarship through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (M.F.A.T.) to study a postgraduate diploma, but she was not satisfied as her goal was to become a specialist.

Therefore, after serving her M.F.A.T. scholarship bond, she fished around for more opportunities and landed the Otago University’s Pacific Islands Doctorate Scholarship in 2016.

Three years and multiple setbacks later, Mrs. Williams graduated in Dunedin last week with a Doctorate of Clinical Dentistry with a specialisation in Oral Pathology, in front of her family and friends.

Before that, she presented her thesis research at the 4th Meeting of the International Association for Dental Research Asia-Pacific Region in Brisbane, Australia. Her presentation topic was: “Investigation of Human Papillomaviruses in Oral lesions and Oral Cancer”.

Looking back at the journey she has taken to eventually graduate with a doctorate last week, Mrs. Williams said it has not been easy.

"It's been quite hard," she said. "It's not an easy programme, it's demanding, you do your clinical work and then you do your thesis part.

"I'm grateful that I'm now back and that's exactly why we go get an education because we want to come back and be able to serve the community and Samoa."

She sees herself as a strong advocate for further education and broadening horizons within the field, while emphasising that time is ticking and people do not get younger.

"I want to push for more scholarship opportunities in order for in-house dentists to become qualified specialists in the nearest future," she added.

"This will hopefully help reduce the government budget for overseas referral and treatment by having our own specialists who can diagnose and treat our own people locally."

She believes that the power of prayer by her parents and grandparents played a significant role in enabling her to get to where she is today. And she will need more prayers in order to tick more boxes. 

"It's my dream to pursue oral medicine... because it has a big role to play in diagnosing oral cancer," she said.

Mrs. Williams is the daughter of Peniamina Tauati and Salilo Tolova’a-Tauati.

Her father has been a big inspiration for her and the challenges he had faced in life played a big part in moulding her to become what she is today.

"Although he was born as a son of a Methodist Church minister, they never got to enjoy the luxury many ministers nowadays are blessed with. My dad and aunty (Sugaluopeamaivasa Chan Cheuk) had to sell fish to neighboring villages caught by my grandfather to make a living as church members were also struggling themselves back then to feed their own families,” she said.

"He is the most hard working person that I’ve known and with a big heart for others and has and still is serving the government of Samoa as manager of accounts and finance section at the Central Bank of Samoa. He is the reason why I have remained in Samoa and wanting to serve our people because it is my calling regardless of the hardship that I will face in the years ahead."

Mrs. Williams dedicated her achievement to her late paternal and maternal grandparents, the late Rev. Maselino Sului and late Aiono Mulipola Iuni Fakalago as well as Hemasi Tolovaa in Dunedin, EFKS Fugalei, in-laws, brother, Desmond Tauati and family as well as her husband, Andrew Williams, and son Simon.

"Tauati and Tolovaa families, dental colleagues at TTM dental hospital and Jaye Moors and Riri Faamoe. Professor Alison Rich and Associate Professor Dawn Coates and staff of Oral Pathology Centre, Faculty of Dentistry, University of Otago," she added.

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