Fast-track door to nursing in Aotearoa opens for Pacific nurses

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Written by Mary Longmore, Co-editor at Kaitiaki Nursing New Zealand

A grandmother of seven is among 40 ākonga (students) who have signed up for a new diploma to support Pacific-trained nurses into the New Zealand workforce.

“I was so moved on the first day – I saw all of us and I thought, ‘Wow, this is amazing, this is a significant move,” said Salote Tuivakano, who trained and worked as a community nurse in Fiji for 14 years before moving to Ōtautahi/Christchurch 14 years ago.

Te Pūkenga Whitireia’s 18-month Graduate Diploma of Nursing Pacific launched in July in Tamaki Mākaurau/Auckland, where it is being hosted by Manukau Institute of Technology. It is aimed at Pacific-trained nurses with two years’ nursing experience, who now reside in New Zealand — many of whom have been working in the unregulated health workforce for years.

Salote Tuivakano

Tuivakano’s story is similar to many of her fellow ākonga. Unable to register and practise as a nurse here after the Nursing Council tightened its English language requirements in 2008, she worked as a health-care assistant (HCA) in the community and aged care for the next 14 years. But she is excited to finally have the chance to return to nursing

“I think I’ll stay here for good! I’m not planning to go anywhere else, I love New Zealand!”

‘Standing here I’m so proud to have the opportunity to register as a nurse in New Zealand.’

Sureti Navecucu, also a Fiji-trained nurse, worked as an aged care HCA after coming to Waihōpai/Invercargill in search of better education for her daughter 11 years ago. But she always wanted to resume her nursing. “This is a great opportunity so I just grabbed it!” she told Kaitiaki.

Sureti Navecucu, student of the Graduate Diploma of Nursing Pacific programme

Sureti Navecucu: “This is a great opportunity so I just grabbed it!”

Ane Apati, from the tiny island nation of Tuvalu where she had been an RN for 14 years, worked in a chicken factory when she first arrived in New Zealand seven years ago. But she didn’t last and the desire to become a nurse “is really strong for me”. She, too, worked as an HCA in aged care before gaining a scholarship and place on the diploma — one of just three Tuvaluans.

“Standing here I’m so proud to have the opportunity to register as a nurse in New Zealand. Hopefully we can have a better life, not only for me — for my family, my kids and my mokos,” says Apati, a grandmother of seven.

Ane Apati, student of the Graduate Diploma of Nursing Pacific

Ane Apati

Head of Pacific nursing Whitireia, Tania Mullane, said the 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 these 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.”

Head of Pacific nursing Whitireia, Tania Mullane

Head of Pacific Nursing Whitireia, Tania Mullane

Most of the ākonga — 35 of 40 — had been supported through Te Whatu Ora’s  Pacific health workforce scholarships which contribute to fees, uniforms, equipment, travel and stipends for indigenous Pacific islanders, whose communities here endure inequitable health outcomes. Te Whatu Ora was also providing support with clinical placements, Mullane said.

A high portion of the Pacific health workforce in New Zealand is made up of unregulated workers. Less than four per cent of the RN workforce identify as Pacific compared to a fast-growing Pacific population of eight per cent.

Growing the Pacific health workforce is one of the aims of the Government’s health workforce plan.

But, in a class-wide interview, many ākonga told Kaitiaki they had worked for years in non-nursing health roles since coming to New Zealand. This was despite extensive experience in their homes — countries like Niue, Tonga, Samoa and Kiribati — in areas such as maternity, primary health and paediatrics.

‘For all the years I have been living here, I was dreaming to become a registered nurse,’

The Nursing Council requires most internationally-qualified nurses (IQNs) to pass expensive and difficult English tests and as well as paying $500 for credentialling. NZNO’s Pacific nursing section chair ‘Eseta Finau has said many end up working for low wages in the unregulated workforce.

NZNO’s Pacific nursing section chair ‘Eseta Finau

‘Eseta Finau

However, from 2024, English standards will be eased as the Nursing Council seeks to balance the need for more IQNs amid a global nursing shortage, with public safety.

Mullane said demand for the first intake had been high, with a waiting list already for next year’s diploma. “It’s very popular, as this was the first time an accredited programme has been developed that specifically meets the needs of Pacific Island-trained nurses,” she said.

Mullane has said she hopes most ākonga would reach the standard of English required over 18 months.

Nursing Council chief executive Catherine Byrne said the council was “very supportive” of the diploma, which would likely lead to more Pacific RNs in Aotearoa.

The council continued to explore other pathways for Pacific nurses to register here, Byrne said.

This article was originally posted on Kaitiaki's website. Kaitiaki Nursing New Zealand is the official journal of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa. Check out the original article here, and find out what they're up to on their Facebook page


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