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New scholarships enable Māori health professionals to earn while they learn

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Six Māori psychiatric assistants are now studying their way to a degree-level nursing qualification at Wintec that will progress their careers and create potential for better Māori mental health support.

The six new Wintec students, Dirk Fletcher, Tiana Tuuta, Johno Elliot, Jan Heta, Rangi Stevenson and Vereene Elliot all work for Waikato District Health Board (Waikato DHB). They are the first to gain access to 15 fully funded scholarships thanks to a collaboration with Waikato DHB and Wintec.

Wintec has made all tuition available fees-free in partnership with the Waikato DHB Mental Health Service who have provided a supported ‘earn while you learn’ opportunity for their Māori staff.

Waikato DHB Executive Director Māori, Equity and Health Improvement, Riki Nia Nia (Ngāi Tūhoe, Ngāti Kahungunu, Tonga) is passionate and a champion for growing and developing the Māori health workforce. Last year he met with Wintec to explore possibilities to upskill Māori working in health and address areas of need.

"If we are to effectively care for the community we serve then it is important we have a workforce that reflects that population. That requires us to have Māori practitioners at every level of the health workforce, including in clinical positions such as these.

"We are grateful to Wintec for the opportunity to partner with them on this initiative."

The six new students have all been psychiatric assistants for many years and while upskilling is attractive, it has never been an option because of their work and whānau commitments. Making time for study while they continue to earn is a priority for these scholarships and Wintec Chief Executive David Christiansen says the opportunity to earn while they learn was critical in developing the scholarships.

"Waikato DHB has been really supportive in enabling these students to continue on their salaries, working in their roles and giving them the time to study. Taking away the barriers that have got in the way of their career progression is the kaupapa for these scholarships," he says.

"Our role in this is to work with them and ensure we give them the best chance to succeed."

Wintec Director Health and Social Practice, Professor Sharon Brownie says that as qualified registered nurses they will be able to provide a greater level of care within the Registered Nursing scope of practice, inclusive of ability to lead teams of mental health across communities.

Mental Health issues are high priority in our Māori communities and Professor Brownie says that "by Māori for Māori" delivery is an enabling component of culturally aligned, quality healthcare".

"It is a real privilege to work within this workforce development partnership - we are in discussion with high needs areas within the Waikato DHB and in June, we hope to have nine more healthcare assistants upskilling here at Wintec."

Scholarship recipient, Vereene Elliott says the scholarship rōpū are passionate about the wellbeing of their communities.

"We are so grateful for the opportunity Wintec and Waikato DHB have given us to complete the Bachelor of Nursing. We are all enjoying the incorporation of Te Ao Māori (the Māori world view) through the Tihei Mauri Ora nursing programme and our rōpū are looking forward to bringing our skills and knowledge into the Māori clinical workforce when we graduate."

Becoming a Registered Nurse is a great honour and a dream come true for fellow recipient and colleague Jan Heta who says it is "humbling to be given the opportunity to work and study at the same time".

"It is a huge honour to receive this tohu. I would never have envisioned an opportunity such as this scholarship to be in arms reach. It has been a dream of mine to become a Registered Nurse but barriers such as financial pressures to study and work meant this was not an option.

"I have worked under the umbrella of Waikato DHB as one of many Māori psychiatric assistants on the floor for many years and there are minimal clinical Māori staff. I am grateful, humble and will embrace this opportunity."

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