Lizzy's story

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Lizzy Kepa-Henry - Public Health Nurse

Graduate - Bachelor of Nursing Māori

"I gained the skills to help our people"

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Tell us a bit about your background – where did you grow up? 

I come from one of the poorest socioeconomic areas in the Hutt Valley, so I learnt lots about what things were missing for our people and and why. I grew up in a rural area on farmland. Whatever we caught was what we had to eat, but we were healthy.

It wasn’t until I was about two decades old that I got to taste my first fish and chips. When I was exposed to more modern foods, my diet changed, so did my outlook and my wellbeing.  

 

What does your role as a Public Health Nurse entail? 

I’m based onsite at Work and Income offices. My role is a specialised role – I understand there’s only three of us in the country. I work with case managers and the Ministry of Social Development to help their clients navigate the health system and engage with health professionals. 

 

What do you love about your role? 

I love that I get to work in the community at the coalface of people, my people in particular. I can see them getting the healthcare they need to keep well, because everyone has a right to wellness. 

 

What inspired you to study Māori nursing? 

One day my daughter said to me “Mum I want to be a nurse.” I said “Cool, go be a nurse!” And she said, “Come with me,” so I said “Ok!” 

 

Why was studying the Bachelor of Nursing Māori right for you? 

I was able to learn in an environment that was conducive to who I am culturally. It gave me a pathway to be able to engage and speak up for our people so they can access the healthcare that they are entitled to. 

The people I studied with are the same people who I work with in the community, and together we are navigating and resolving inequities for our people. 

 

How would you describe the learning environment at Whitireia? 

It felt like a big whānau. The Bachelor of Nursing Māori had people from all walks of life. Where the younger generation had gaps, the older generation could fill them, and vice versa. It was the whole marae concept, where we could build around them to awhi them. 

 

What would you say to someone considering studying Māori Nursing? 

I don’t care how old you are, or what you’re doing, go be a nurse. And not just a nurse that is Māori, but a Māori nurse. 

Every year I go back to Whitireia to speak to the nursing students to pass on the kaupapa. During my closing kōrero I look at all the young ones and I say, “If I could have been a nurse at your age, I would have done it then. That would be my only regret – that I didn’t do it earlier.” 

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