Pacific nursing students: walking the talk

February 2016 Vol 16 (1)

Loma-Linda Tasi got tired of teaching nursing students about Pacific people’s negative health statistics. The nursing lecturer, co-ordinator for year two of Whitireia Community Polytechnic’s Bachelor of Nursing (Pacific), decided she had to start somewhere to make a difference and a good place to begin was with herself and her students.

Her philosophy is to try and build a healthy lifestyle into everyday living to stop the real risk nurses face of being so busy looking after others that they forget to look after themselves.

So her personal journey has included giving up her car so she walks to work most days, her teenage kids are more active and the temptation is removed to drive to get takeaways after a busy day.

Her teaching journey includes supporting her very committed students to build an understanding of other’s health needs by turning it around and looking at their own health needs first.

“The statistics tell us that Pacific people are highly represented in rates of obesity and chronic disease and you can bet that that statistic is represented in the classroom too.” The pressures of study can also impact negatively on health with students working long hours and filling up on cheap hot chips from the student café.

Empowering students

Tasi says she tries to takes an empowering holistic approach so sets aside time in the study week for students to gather in small groups to set a simple personal health goal for the year; examine the evidence behind it, identify the challenges (including being time and money poor students) and support each other through the year to meet that goal; be it quitting smoking or eating more healthily.

She backs this in the classroom by teaching the science behind healthy lifestyle changes that can reduce the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

For example when she does a session on acids, alkalis and blood pH she makes students record all they ate in the previous three days. They arrive in the classroom to find acidic written up on one side of the white board and alkali on the other and she gets them to write-down each serving of vegetables, chips, fruit, pie, alcohol, soft drink or cereal they ate or drank on a Post-it note and stick them on the appropriate side of the board.

She says there is a lot of laughter during the exercise but quickly the acidic side of the board fills up giving students a graphic depiction and reality check that their diet is not okay. “Over the term students report back that they’ve changed a lot in their family’s diet and also saved money in some cases.”

Tasi’s aim is to empower Pacific people to reverse unhealthy lifestyle patterns, caused by shifting to New Zealand, as part of a nursing curriculum that emphasises Pacific nurses understanding who they are, where they came from and equipping them with the knowledge to rebuild a healthy lifestyle one step at time; starting with their own family, their friends and, in time, the community they care for as nurses.

SEE ALSO related MAIN ARTICLE: MĀORI AND PACIFIC NURSES: IS BURNOUT INEVITABLE?

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