Te Atamira Dakin’s journey to become a registered nurse is as much about other students, as it is about her own.
On Friday 20 November, Te Atamira along with 12 other Māori students, will celebrate the end of their nursing studies at Whitireia in Porirua with a Powaiwai, a pre-graduation ceremony held every year following exams, which symbolically returns the students to their whānau who gave them into the care of the institute at the start of their studies.
For most, it will be the end of a three year journey to attain a Bachelor of Nursing (Māori) from Whitireia, but for Te Atamira hers started six years ago in 2015.
Te Atamira had completed the majority of her first year studies at the Whitireia campus in Porirua, but was then involved in a serious car accident which meant overcoming significant physical and mental health issues that tested her resolve and required the love and support of her whānau to help her succeed.
Kia Ora Hauora, the national Māori workforce development programme which partners with Whitireia to provide wrap around support for students, has walked alongside Te Atamira since she first registered with them in December 2014.
"Kia Ora Hauora has been there right from the beginning. They have been amazing and a massive influence on our class," says Te Atamira.
As well as offering a number of scholarships, Kia Ora Hauora has supported her to attend conferences, provided free first aid training, provided support packages during lockdown, given grants for footwear and vouchers for petrol and other transport costs. "They have done so much for me this year, and taken care of me," says Te Atamira.
Kia Ora Hauora has more than 3000 registered members that it supports in secondary schools through to tertiary study and into the health sector workforce.
Central Regional Coordinator Leigh Andrews says nursing attracts a lot of Māori as a career choice because it enables them to work closely with patients and their whānau, and offers a diverse range of career pathways.
"Nursing is popular but we need more coming through to achieve equity in the health sector for our Māori population. In the Capital and Coast District Health Board region alone, a recent report projected the Māori population to grow by 16.2% by 2030, where the non-Māori population is expected to grow by only 13.5%. It’s clear we need more students like Te Atamira entering the workforce."
"Kia Ora Hauora and Whitireia recognise the potential akonga (students) Māori have, but also acknowledge the often complex issues they must navigate during their programme of study," says Jeanette Grace, Head of Te Wānanga Māori at Whitireia. "The congruence of approach and support from kaupapa Māori is one the akonga appreciate."
When Te Atamira (Ngāpuhi, Whānau a Āpanui, Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Koroki Kahukura) re-joined the nursing programme in 2019 she was still healing. Injuries to a leg and foot meant that she was in constant pain, which at the end of a normal day left her exhausted and with a sore and swollen leg.
"It's been a big struggle physically and mentally. I’ve learnt so much about how to adapt when you’re physically unwell. I didn’t think I was going to get through it at the end of the second year. I was told I needed to have another surgery and I wouldn’t be doing the third year."
But by means of her passion to care for people and her desire to nurse, Atamira made changes to her lifestyle, learned to manage the pain and found renewed strength by becoming a student mentor.
"Mentoring students - it hasn’t just helped them, it’s also helped me. It’s something I have truly loved, and it’s been a part of my success, and my journey. Mentoring is the one thing that has lifted me and built that fire in me to continue my studies."
Te Atamira mentored Bachelor of Nursing (Māori) students at Whitireia regularly throughout the first year of her return to studies, but it was during Covid-19 that she had a group of 17 first year students from the programme. "It started off with two, and they invited two and then it just grew," she says.
Peer mentoring is part of the student support approach at Whitireia, and in the Bachelor of Nursing (Māori) programme, all akonga are introduced to practices relative to the concept of tuakana or teina. There is an expectation that, if they are able, senior akonga will assist new cohorts.
Te Atamira started up a wānanga study group, gained access to a local marae and asked Whitireia for help to fund kai. She enlisted help from some of her peers and as a result all 17 students made it through to second semester. "Eight of them said if it wasn’t for that support, they would have quit," says Te Atamira.
Te Atamira wants to nurse in the Wellington region and has applied to work in medical wards where she can gain a wide range of experience. Eventually she plans to specialise in holistic nursing and train to be a nurse practitioner.
"I want to work with not only the physical, but mental wellbeing, family dynamics and also the spiritual side, so connecting with Te Whare Tapa Wha. I’d like to continue my studies and become a nurse practitioner and put myself in a position where I am able to create change for our Māori that are coming through."
"I owe so much to my family. My parents are incredible. They have given me four years of study time. I’m very, very fortunate to be in that position. Mum, she has been the absolute backbone to my degree.
"I can’t emphasise the importance of passing this Whitireia degree, not just for me, but for my family who have been helping me and have been with me on this journey. At the end of the day, they are the ones that have been making dinner when I need food to study, lending me $20 for gas to get to school, giving me advice, listening to me when I needed them to - without them I wouldn’t be graduating."