Describing himself as “an accidental nurse”, new graduate Hayden Erick came to nursing after redundancy changed his life direction from contracting to community support work.
At the age of 27 he embarked on the Bachelor of Nursing Pacific programme at Manukau Institute of Technology’s Otara campus, one of a small but growing number of male nurses enrolling in the degree.
Having spent seven years working with a subcontractor, maintaining Watercare’s network in Auckland, Hayden’s first step towards nursing came in his mid-twenties when he was made redundant. At the same time his son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
In need of work to support his family, Hayden was “serendipitously” offered a job as a community support worker with Spectrum Care, a charitable trust providing support for people with disabilities living in the community.
“We were helping people to live their lives to the fullest regardless of their disability, an experience that made me a better parent to my son, and made me think, ‘I could try to take this further’.”
And take it further he did. With support from his family and friends, Hayden graduated this year from MIT with academic excellence. He can’t speak highly enough of programme, which incorporates Pacific values, culture and world views into coursework and clinical training.
“Giving back to the community and supporting our people is important,” he says.
Now 30, Hayden is working with the Child and Family Unit, a child and adolescent mental health inpatient service based at Starship Children’s Hospital. It’s a role he says his Niuean upbringing has prepared him well for. “Engaging in therapeutic conversations is very much aligned with Pacific values. We like to sit down and talk with someone and get to know them before we start treating them.”
And, brought up in a culture where children are viewed as “our treasure”, Hayden thrives on working with young people. “If I can help them succeed in life, it’s better not only for them, but also for society. Our interventions will echo throughout their lives.”
Pacific male nurses a minority
Hayden is one of only a handful of male Pacific nurses in New Zealand. While there are no specific figures for this cohort, the most recent statistics from the Nursing Council reveal only 8.8% of nurses were male in 2016, and just 2.7% of nurses identified as Pacific (Pacific make up about 7% of the New Zealand population).
Carolyn Reed, Chief Executive of the Nursing Council, believes diversity in the profession is important. “Nurses from diverse backgrounds bring unique skills and experience to the profession which enriches their practice and helps provide safe, high-quality care for patients.”
As far as forging a career goes, Hayden doesn’t view being part of a minority as a hindrance. “If anything, it opens more doors.” But he agrees the profession needs more Pasifika men. “I’d say to them, ‘Go for it. Nursing is much more than just a job, it’s a career for life’.”
And he’s already convinced one young man. His eight-year-old son no longer wants to be a truck driver, but a nurse like his dad.
Forget the stereotypes says top rugby player turned nurse
Fellow graduate Victor Tu’ungafasi also wants to encourage Pasifika men to consider nursing as a career. “There are Pasifika nurses, although not enough. But what we’re lacking is the male side to it.”
His advice to his peers is to forget about stereotypes. “You are only limiting yourself. Don’t worry about what people might say; put yourself in a space where you can do it. It’s a really rewarding career.”
Like his brother, All Blacks prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Tongan-born Victor is a talented rugby player, playing premier club rugby in Auckland for Grammar TEC. But when he left Mangere College in 2014 he knew he wanted to do something that would help others. “I wanted to give back to the community and to the people who made me who I am today.”
Nursing ticked all the boxes and, despite knowing he was stepping outside the norm – “Heaps of my mates were like, ‘why nursing?’” – Victor signed up for MIT’s Bachelor of Nursing Pacific programme. Out of a class of around 120, Victor says he was one of only 12 males, of which only five or six were Pasifika.
Currently working in a community-based mental health clinic in Manukau, Victor says some of the attributes he brings to the job include his “values, culture and morals”.
“And being able to speak my language fluently makes interaction easier”.
Alongside work, Victor is doing postgraduate study specialising in mental health at the University of Auckland, supported by Counties Manukau DHB. “I’d like to keep going with my studies and see how far it takes me,” he says.
For now though, two months into the job, what does he love most about his new profession? “Seeing someone get to a better state is the best feeling. It’s the most rewarding thing, seeing the transformation of a patient.”