Meet Salote Tu’ungafasi – Enrolled Nursing Graduate

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Salote recently graduated in the Diploma in Enrolled Nursing programme. She was the student speaker at this years Porirua Graduation. Salote’s journey embodies the values of service and support, drawing back to her upbringing in Tonga. We sat down with her and talked about her life in Tonga, studying at Whitireia and her steps to building a career she loves.

The act of service

For Salote, it’s always been about service and giving back. Salote hails from the kingdom of Tonga, and is a second child of five. Living in Tonga, she grew up around a rich Pacific Island culture surrounded by family, community and togetherness. From a young age, she found inspiration in the service that nurses carried out in the workplace. During her childhood, she witnessed her grandparents deal with various health complications. Salote continued to support her grandparents through this, and would take them to the hospital for appointments.

“I found it a real privilege to care for my grandparents.”

It was at these hospital visits, where she watched nurses in person, treating patients and caring for her own grandparents. By that point, she knew what career she wanted for her future.

A new life in New Zealand

In 2019, Salote moved to New Zealand with her husband. Having completed her schooling in Tonga, she understood that opportunities were limited, and dreamt of moving to New Zealand to live and continue her studies. With the effects of COVID-19 intensifying, healthcare workers played a vital role in combatting COVID-19. Upon arriving in New Zealand, Salote joined the front line working as a healthcare assistant. She worked at the Senate Nursing Bureau (SNB), which involved travelling across the Wellington region. SNB would send her to various hospitals, aged care, mental health, rehabilitation and disability facilities to treat vulnerable patients.

“Early on, I noticed the shortages of healthcare staff and nurses. I knew there was a good opportunity to study nursing.”

Beginning her learning journey at Whitireia

Salote spent three years working as a healthcare assistant, then began studying at Whitireia in 2022. She came across Whitireia and WelTec through an ad, where she browsed the programmes that were offered at the time. She first enrolled in the Certificate in IT Essentials, which was a six month course. After that she enrolled in the Diploma in Enrolled Nursing programme at Whitireia.

She was welcomed to Whitireia with open arms by tutors and fellow class mates. At the beginning of the programme, each student shared something about them and their cultural background. The students were invested in each other's journeys, which felt motivating for Salote and her peers.

“Right away, we showed respect to each other's cultures. This helped prepare us going into industry, to understand different cultural perspectives that patients would have.”

Salote spent her nursing placements across the Wellington region, beginning at the Manor Park Aged Care Psychogeriatric. Her first placement was for seven weeks, then she worked four-week blocks at Wellington Regional Hospital and Kenepuru Hospital in various wards.

“It was nerve racking beginning my first placement, but I had been in a similar position working as a nurse and healthcare assistant. Treating patients was second nature to me.”

Salote’s learning journey had full support from start to finish. The academic team encouraged Salote and the class to push each other to excel at their highest. The tutors always had an emphasis on professionalism in the industry, a crucial part in helping Salote prepare for her nursing career. Resources were abundant for students, having access to evidence based research materials and access to industry knowledge through their tutors. When it came to study management and pastoral care, Salote had the help of the pacific student support and learner support teams.

“The whole environment and the support I got during my time studying was great, I am grateful”

Porirua Graduation

In April 2024, Salote graduated with a Diploma in Enrolled Nursing. She was chosen to represent the graduate cohort as the student speaker at this year's (2024) Porirua Graduation Ceremony. Listen to her speech below.

“It felt amazing to graduate alongside my peers. The hard work had all paid off on that day.”

Working in industry

In January, Salote began as an enrolled nurse at the Acquired Brain Injury Rehabilitation Centre (ABI) in Auckland. ABI provides traumatic brain injury and stroke rehabilitation services across New Zealand. Salote’s transition into the industry has been challenging but with good learnings along the way. Every day is different at the rehab centre, treating patients with a wide range of injuries.

“The transition from being a student to now being a full-time enrolled nurse has been great. I feel like I’ve chosen the right place, they oriented me and I always have someone assisting me while being on the job. I’m proud to be an enrolled nurse from Whitireia!”

The main focus at ABI is to rehabilitate and intergrate patients back to their normal way of living. Patients at ABI are supported by a multi disciplinary team including nurses, speech language therapists and physiotherapists. Salote works together with these members to enable the best support possible for patients. Whānau (family) are also included in the rehabilitation process, forming a strong support system for the patient. The multi-disciplinary team follow a holistic approach that focuses on health and wellbeing, breathing and feeding, environmental management, language, thinking and mobility.

“I love it because we are all here working towards one purpose, for the patient. One of my favourite parts of the job is seeing the smile on their faces when they can get back to their normal way of living, whether that be being able to walk again, or being able to remember your name the next day. It makes me happy seeing that.”

Serving the community

Salote has taken on further education, and is currently studying the Graduate Diploma in Nursing Pacific programme.

Programme Manager of Pacific nursing Whitireia, Tania Mullane, said ākonga Pacific — so long locked out of nursing in Aotearoa — would bring a “wealth of professional and cultural experience and knowledge that will significantly contribute to the Pacific populations that reside in Aotearoa”.

“Being part of giving ākonga an option to get New Zealand nurse registration is significant, especially knowing the sacrifices they have made to leave their home islands, come to NZ and to be on the programme.”

She plans to invest more time working in the Pacific community and becoming a role model for Pacific student nurses who choose to service the people of New Zealand. Salote understands her strengths in developing strong relationships in the Pacific community. At her core, Salote loves to help people. This is her way of giving back to the community that she once grew up in. A journey that has come full circle, from her time caring for her grandparents to now having a career in nursing.

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