Daughter humbled by following iconic mother in winning award

8 September 2016

Nurse practitioner Pareake O'Brien says she is stunned to win the Te Akenehi Hei Award that was also awarded to her late mother Putiputi O'Brien more than a decade ago.

O'Brien was awarded the Te Rūnanga o Aotearoa New Zealand Nurses Organisation's (NZNO’s) highest honour at an NZNO awards dinner in Wellington on 6 September. 

The award, named after one of the country's first Māori registered nurses has been awarded since 2001 to recognise excellence in hauora Māori. The first recipient was cultural safety pioneer Irihapeti Ramsden and the second was O'Brien's mother Putiputi O'Brien – the former patron of Te Kaunihera o Ngā Neehi Māori, the Council of Māori Nurses – who died last year aged 93.

O'Brien says she was floored at the news of her own award and "tried to wiggle out of it" feeling she wasn't a worthy recipient. But after reflecting on it she decided she was humbled that her peers thought her worthy of it, realised it was a "huge honour" and accepted it humbly on behalf of her whānau, hapū and iwi .

"Also in my mind I could hear my mother saying, 'For goodness sake, you can't not accept it'. I think my mother would have been tickled pink and overjoyed."

From Te Teko in the Bay of Plenty, O’Brien (whose iwi are Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Porou and Te Arawa) became an NP in February and works for the Whakatane-based Māori health and social service provider Te Tohu o Te Ora o Ngāti Awa. The NP runs mobile clinics providing health care to small and remote communities, and mentors not only nursing but allied health and medical students. "I love mentoring – it stimulates me and challenges me in my practice. 

Didn't want to be a nurse like Mum as "you are never home"

O'Brien says the "honest truth" is that it was far from inevitable that she would follow her mother into nursing.

"It was the last thing I wanted to do. Mum was so busy looking after everybody else and travelling around the country on Māori nursing work that my father basically brought us up. I used to think I'm never going to be a nurse as you are never home. Mum actually put me off (nursing)."

She says it wasn't until after leaving home and working a stint as a nurse aide at psychopaedic hospital that she realised "there is something in this nursing" and had now been nursing for more than 30 years.

O'Brien laughs and says that she cringes now as she realises she was also "never home" and when her kids tell her they have seen her in the paper or on the TV again. "That's exactly what we kids used to think about Mum."

So is she more like her mum than she thought? "Oh no, Mum was a legend – nobody can be the same as Mum." 

Also, after her successful nurse practitioner panel hearing earlier this year, she says she has "got her life back" and ticked some things off her bucket list, including getting back into kapa haka and learning to play the ukulele.

"Now I'm thinking I'm better behaved again and not doing anything outrageous," she laughs.

NZNO Kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku says O’Brien is a very worthy recipient. “Pare is an outstanding nursing leader. What is significant is that her peers have seen her passion, commitment and inspirational leadership and put her name forward for this prestigious award.

"Pare has influenced whānau, hapū and iwi, supported tauira and shown that with resilience and tenacity everyone can achieve their aspirations.” 

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