Aroha Ruha-Hiraka, this year’s joint winner of the Young Nurse of the Year Award, 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.

The 25-year-old of Ngāti Awa, Tuhoe and Te Arawa descent was announced as joint winner with Annie Stevenson at the annual NZNO awards dinner last night

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 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 says her Te Ōhanga Mataora Paetahi (Bachelor of Health Science Māori Nursing) at the wānanga was amazing, including its holistic focus on using the te whare tapa whā model to make them consider all four sides of Māori health – tinana (physical), wairua (spiritual), whānau (family) and hinengaro (mental) – when working with Māori patients.

“I’ve been brought up with te reo Māori and with the Māori world view, so I have basic knowledge of tikanga and I apply a lot of that into my practice as well. Which I feel our Māori patients appreciate.”

Though originally from the Bay of Plenty, Ruha-Hiraka had full te reo-immersion schooling in Wellington from kohanga reo, kura kaupapa and on to wharekura. A new job saw her nurse mother bring the family home to the Bay of Plenty, where Ruha-Hiraka decided to enrol and be part of the first Whakatane cohort of the wānanga’s kaupapa Māori nursing degree. She gave birth to her daughter Tewaituarangi in her second year 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.”

Ruha-Hiraka says after leaving school she had been contemplating medicine but having shifted back to the Bay of Plenty she had been keen to stay there to study. Now midway through her new graduate year, she says she wants to continue studying and is considering starting on the nurse practitioner pathway in her chosen field of primary health care.

But first she is looking to celebrate her win and says as it is her partner’s birthday the day after the awards they might head off with their baby for a weekend away.

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.”

Runner-up Te Rongopai Clay-Mackay, a young Plunket Nurse working in Porirua, was also acknowledged for her work in improving health for Māori. She is the first Plunket nurse to deliver both Well Child and B4 School programmes in te reo Māori and Nuku said Te Rongopai 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 runners-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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