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NZ's First Nurse Practitioner Celebrates DVD

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For immediate release

Date: September 22

New Zealand's First Nurse Practitioner Celebrates DVD

Seven years ago, Waikato neo-natal nurse Deborah Harris became the country's first nurse practitioner.

Therefore, she sees last week's release of a Ministry of Health DVD focusing on the work of nurse practitioners as confirmation nurse practitioners are here to stay.

The registration process to become a nurse practitioner is rigorous and particularly demanding of Mrs Harris when the mother-of-three embarked on it in 2001.

The Ministry of Health this week launched a DVD entitled 'Nurse practitioner - a healthy future'.

The DVD profiles some of the 47 nurse practitioners working in New Zealand in the hope it can encourage the training and development of these valuable positions.

In order to become a nurse practitioner, you must have a minimum of four years practice as a registered nurse working in your area of specialty, which can happen while you undertake postgraduate study, resulting in a clinically focused Masters degree.

Once you have four years practice and a Masters under your belt, you can apply for registration through a stringent assessment and interview process with the Nursing Council of New Zealand.

The result is a health professional who can diagnose, order tests and prescribe medication and treatment, all while providing expert nursing care - exactly what Mrs Harris does for babies and their families at Waikato Hospital.

Mrs Harris works in Waikato Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) "a stunning place to work," she says.

Following her nurse registration in Wellington in 1985, Mrs Harris initially worked in oncology and haematology.

"I then headed over to England, where I worked at Harefield Hospital in Middlesex, which specialised in heart and lung transplants in adults," she said.

However, her work focus - and her life - changed forever when the hospital became desperately short-staffed in the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit.

"I had been working in the unit for less than a day when I knew that I would never go back to working with adults.

"It was so incredibly special to work with people that are becoming families, and it still is."

Out of the 47 current nurse practitioners in New Zealand, Waikato Hospital employs five as a strong supporter of the work.

"Waikato District Health Board has really been a leader in the development of this role," said Mrs Harris.

The initiative was initially led by the then Health Waikato director of nursing Jan Adams and continues to be supported by Waikato District Health Board's director of nursing and midwifery Sue Hayward.

At the time, Mrs Adams said Mrs Harris's appointment brought kudos to Waikato Hospital and would inspire other nurses.

She was right. "We are very proud of Deborah and know she continues to set goals other nurses then seek to aspire to."

Waikato Hospital has a nurse practitioner development group, which is looking to identify areas where the role would be beneficial to a particular service, then supporting the training and growing of nurses into these roles."

Waikato currently has nurse practitioners who specialise in wound care, mental health and neonatology. Mrs Harris is also mentoring two nurses who will specialise in pain management and palliative care.

An additional skill nurse practitioners can choose to pursue is prescribing rights. Twenty-eight nurse practitioners in the country have prescribing rights; however, Mrs Harris is the only one in Waikato with this ability.

She says the role of a nurse practitioner brings a blend of nursing, science and medicine to the bedside.

"I think that blend can make a real difference to a patient's experience."

Despite a national-first, Masters degree and being a highly skilled health professional, Mrs Harris was ready for another challenge and is now in the process of completing a PhD.

There are four components to this study, two carried out at Waikato Hospital; the Baby Study and the Sugar Babies study.

Both look into neonatal hypoglycaemia (low blood pressure in babies), which Mrs Harris says is extremely common.

The Baby Study seeks to determine a relationship between low blood glucose levels and brain function using a simple EEG (electroecephalogram) and a continuous blood glucose monitor, while Sugar Babies, which starts in October, is a randomised controlled trial looking to determine whether a dextrose gel can reverse neonatal hypoglycaemia.

"I wanted the focus of my study to be something that would benefit babies and their mums," said Mrs Harris.

Nurse practitioners have a unique combination of knowledge and skills, working in most areas of health delivery every day. The role addresses inequalities in healthcare provision and improves access to healthcare.

They are proving particularly effective in bridging gaps in health delivery, which are emerging as the community ages, and health needs grow in quantity and complexity.

Areas that are beginning to benefit enormously from this skilled workforce are rural communities, family health, Maori and Pacific populations, all primary care settings and private providers, and those with specific health needs in chronic care conditions, asthma, diabetes, cardiac care and mental health.

NB: A high resolution image of Deborah Harris can be found on the Waikato DHB website at


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