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Awanuiārangi graduate named NZ Young Nurse of the Year

19 October 2018

Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi graduate Aroha Ruha-Hiraka has been named this year's joint winner of the national Young Nurse of the Year Award.

Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi graduate Aroha Ruha-Hiraka has been named this year's joint winner of the national Young Nurse of the Year Award.

Ruha-Hiraka graduated at the end of last year in the first cohort of the Whakatāne-based kaupapa Māori nursing degree, the Bachelor of Health Sciences Māori (Nursing).  She is now a practice nurse at Kawerau Medical Centre, where she worked part-time as a healthcare assistant throughout her three-year nursing degree programme.

The New Zealand Nurses Organisation’s (NZNO) annual award celebrates nursing at an excellent level and recognises that recipients have reached a high level in their everyday work. Ruha-Hiraka was nominated by her employers for her work to improve the health status of Māori through prevention and education­, and in particular her focus on helping patients to quit smoking and manage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

At the awards, NZNO kaiwhakahaere Keri Nuku acknowledged Ruha-Hiraka’s use of tikanga and te reo Māori to create a safe and respectful environment when working with patients and their whānau, and said she truly deserves recognition for her hard work and dedication.

“You are a wonderful role model for young and Māori nurses, and we couldn’t agree more with staff at Kawerau Medical Centre, who say they are lucky to have you.”

Most of the centre’s patients are Māori, and Ruha-Hiraka says the Awanuiārangi kaupapa Māori nursing degree equipped her well to contribute to health outcomes for Māori.

“As a kura kaupapa kid I grew up with Māori as my first language and little knowledge of Pākehā. Awanuiārangi was the best choice for me to build a tertiary studies foundation. I was familiar with the environment – it was just the norm to me. I might have struggled in a mainstream institution.

“It is good to be able to express our culture, speak our reo and normalise that in the health industry – it continues to make a difference for Māori,” Ruha-Hiraka says. “The cultural safety and tikanga Māori component of my Awanuiārangi degree has helped me contribute to better health outcomes for Māori because language, cultural awareness and good communication helps to connect and build a rapport quickly with Māori patients, which means they feel comfortable coming into the practice.

“It also makes it much easier to ensure that the practice’s health education is easily understood. That is an important part of the work to deliver good care to our patients. And we have some kaumātua who struggle to understand English so I do some of my consultations in Māori, which is easier for me and for them – a win-win.”

For three years, Ruha-Hiraka successfully combined full-time study, part-time work and being a mother to her now two-year-old daughter. She gave birth to Tewaituarangi in the second year of her degree but was back at school the following day to complete an assessment.

“I just continued my studies with no break,” she says. “But I couldn’t have done it without my whānau – they were my number one support system.”

Kawerau Medical Centre was another mainstay of support throughout Ruha-Hiraka’s studies, and continues to provide her with opportunities.

“I have worked here – part-time and now full-time – for four years, and have been mentored and guided, sent on professional development courses, and always included in any new education opportunity to upskill. The practice also supported me throughout my studies with a scholarship.”

Ruha-Hiraka says she plans to continue with her studies, firstly to become a nurse practitioner, and then to pursue her long-term goal of becoming a doctor.

Middlemore Hospital paediatric medical ward nurse Annie Stevenson was announced joint winner alongside Ruha-Hiraka at the annual Young Nurse of the Year awards dinner in September. The judging panel comprised representatives from all District Health Boards, The Office of the Chief Nurse (Ministry of Health), the NZNO President, kaiwhakahaere and nursing staff, and last year’s winner Jess Tiplady.