Engagement and success for Pasifika nursing students

1 July 2013

NGAIRA NGAIRA HARKER reflects on the importance of supporting Pasifika nursing students.

Creating opportunities within mainstream nursing programme for Pasifika students to have relevant cultural health experiences can create challenges for nursing education.

The limited pool of Pacific Island nurse educators and the small number of Pacific Island students within nursing degree programmes is potentially a factor in the lack of Pasifika views and models of health care within some programmes.

Added to this issue are the limited practice opportunities for Pasifika students to gain relevant cultural clinical experiences. The future health workforce will require knowledge of Pasifika health issues. It is estimated that by 2050, half of the population in Aotearoa will identify as Pasifika. Having Pasifika nurse educators as role models for our students has been an important factor in creating opportunities, and the growth of Pasifika knowledge within Waiariki School of Nursing and Health Studies and inspiring this group of students to think and aspire to leadership positions as a future goal.

We are fortunate to have two Pasifika nurse educators both at master’s level who are committed to creating gains for our students. This commitment enabled a group of Pasifika students, together with three staff, to attend the 2012 South Pacific Nursing Forum held in Melbourne.

A year of preparation and fundraising, led by nursing lecturer Ana Waqairawaqa, was key in ensuring this trip was well planned and students could benefit from the experience. The New Zealand Fijian Nursing Association also provided financial support for the group to attend.

The forum exposed students to a diverse group of nurses from throughout the South Pacific region. It broadened their knowledge of current health issues impacting on all Pacific nations and supported the development of networks with other South Pacific nursing academics, researchers and clinicians. Being surrounded by Pasifika nursing colleagues sharing their experiences and knowledge of health issues and nursing practice was a vital immersion experience for the students that was inspiring and provided valuable motivation to support their continued pathway.

A forum report by Adi Losalini Cegumalua, a first year nursing student of Fijian descent, shows the value of this experience:

I’ve been excited about this trip from the beginning of this year when we were told that we could attend.

A presentation that captured my attention was from Dr Amelia Tuipulotu, University of Sydney, with her presentation on ‘Tatau pē Equality and Talanoa Tongan Oral Culture’. Her philosophy interwove nursing and the concept of cultural ornaments within a nursing context. She gave the example of the traditional Tongan woven mat with the four strands demonstrating it as a framework in which to frame culturally appropriate nursing standards. She explored nursing standards from within a Tongan and Western world-view to support improved approaches to care supporting the needs of the Tongan community. She showed passion and patriotism with her speech that captured everyone’s attention.

Overall, for me, the trip was hugely beneficial. It enabled me to see what was happening in the Pacific nursing world, to gain an understanding of what nurses from the Pacific encounter during their daily work, the different challenges they face, and the challenges each Pacific Island country faces to improve nursing qualifications and nursing standards within the South Pacific.

Other students provided insight into how attending the forum impacted on their view of Pacific health. These insights included:

  • Cultural influences and low economic status that hinder nurses from becoming nursing leaders in the South Pacific.
  • As a nursing student, it was so good to learn how nurses in leadership roles can make a difference in their workplace if they are provided with the proper training and ongoing support.
  • The Commonwealth Nurses Federation and their purpose – which is to contribute to the improved health of citizens of the Commonwealth by fostering access to nursing education, influencing health policy, developing nursing networks, and strengthening nursing leadership. They play a critical role in improving nursing standards of practice by providing commonwealth countries with this assistance.
  • It was informative to know the progress of each Pacific nation focusing on the issues of diabetes, cancer, mental health and nutrition, which is steadily improving but still much work (to be done) and health promotion (needed to) impact on these areas.

The collective efforts of the group also resulted in some amazing traditional outfits made and worn at the forum by both students and staff. Students and staff decided on two outfits to represent the Bay of Plenty region and also their traditional links; one was blue and yellow (the colours of the Steamers rugby team) and the other green, red, yellow, and black (representing Waikato chiefs and Waiariki colours).

The next South Pacific Nursing forum will be held in Tonga and Ana and the team have already started planning to support the next cohort of Pacific students to attend this important occasion.

Author: Ngaira Harker, director of the School of Nursing and Health Studies, Waiariki Institute of Technology and board member of the College of Nurses Aotearoa.