Middlemore Hospital paediatric medical ward nurse Annie Stevenson and Kawerau Medical Centre new graduate practice nurse Aroha Ruha-Hiraka were announced joint winners of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation award last night at the annual NZNO Young Nurse of the Year awards dinner.

It is only the second time in the award’s five-year history that it has been given to two participants, because the judging panel found both nominees equally impressive

Aroha Ruha-Hiraka, successfully combined full-time study, part-time work and being a mother to her now two-year-old daughter, and still graduated at the end of last year alongside her fellow classmates, who made up the first cohort of Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi’s kaupapa Māori nursing degree.

Ruha-Hiraka now works as a practice nurse at Kawerau Medical Centre, where she had also worked part-time as a healthcare assistant throughout her three-year degree. The majority of the centre’s patients are Māori and the centre nominated their young protégé – who is fluent in te reo – for her passion for improving the health status of Māori through prevention and education­, and her work as the centre’s smoking cessation champion with the COPD management programme.

She says that when her boss nominated her she didn’t believe she had a chance of winning as “the calibre of the past winners was so high”. So she was so very excited to find she had won. “I was, like, stoked…I couldn’t believe it! I was so thankful, honoured and proud.”

Ruha-Hiraka said the Wānanga degree had been “amazing” and she also grew up with her first language as Māori and said speaking te reo meant she felt she was able to connect and build rapport quite quickly with her Māori patients. “And we do have some kaumātua who struggle to understand consultations done in English so I do some of my consultations in Māori, which is easier for me and for them. So it’s a win-win.”

She gave birth to her daughter Tewaituarangi in the second year of her degree but was so determined to finish her degree on time that she went straight back to school the day after giving birth as she had an assessment.

“I just continued my studies with no break,” she says. “I was working part-time as a healthcare assistant, was a full-time mum and did full-time study all at the same time.”  “But I couldn’t have done it without my whānau – they were my number one support system. Without them, I don’t think I would have been able to continue that quickly.”

At the awards, NZNO kaiwhakahaere Keri Nuku acknowledged Ruha-Hiraka’s use of tikanga and te reo 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.”

Annie Stevenson was nominated not once but twice for Young Nurse of the Year for her work making a difference to children she cares for at Kidz First Children’s Hospital.

Kidz First Children’s Hospital paediatric medical ward nurse Annie Stevenson was announced last night as joint winner of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation award, alongside Aroha Ruha-Hiraka, at the annual NZNO Young Nurse of the Year awards dinner.

Annie, of Niuean descent, was nominated first for her work on a number of Kidz First projects at Middlemore Hospital, including Lungs 4 Life, which seeks to reduce bronchiectasis among Māori and Pacific children. Her second nomination was in recognition of her passion for child protection and work around intimate partner violence and shaken baby prevention.

NZNO president Grant Brookes said at the awards that Annie was an outstanding role model to all young nurses, but especially young Pacific nurses.

“Annie is impressive for her willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty. She has had a real impact on the lives of infants in the Counties Manukau community and in the island nation of Kiribati where she has worked as a volunteer.”

Runner-up for the award this year was Te Rongopai Clay-Mackay, a young Plunket Nurse working in Porirua, who was also acknowledged for her work towards improving health for Māori. She is the first Plunket nurse to deliver both Well Child and B4 School programmes in te reo Māori and stood out for being “a vibrant, committed and caring young nurse who has demonstrated an incredible amount of maturity and professionalism in her work”.

The 2018 Award winners and runner up were chosen from 14 nominations. The judging panel consisted of 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.

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