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Mum’s struggles inspire study to raise Māori nurse numbers

31 October 2019

Northland mum’s struggles inspire study to raise Māori nurse numbers

Whangarei mental health nurse and nursing educator Phillipa (Pipi) Barton (Ngāti Hikairo/Te Rohe Pōtae) knows only too well the challenges Māori may face when entering the nursing profession.

The single mother of one says she struggled with the transition from a Kura Kaupapa Māori system to a mainstream school when growing up in the 1980s.

“My parents separated when I was five and my mother took me and my five siblings up to Whangarei from Wellington. My grandparents noticed that my mother was struggling to raise six kids on her own, so four of us were sent to a Māori Catholic boarding school in the small rural community of Waitaruke in the Far North. Here we spoke Māori every day and our lives were heavily influenced by a Maori worldview, so I found it really difficult when I went to a large, predominately Pākehā urban high school at a time when studying Te Reo Māori was discouraged,” says Miss Barton.

After being told by one of her high school teachers that she would ‘amount to nothing’, Miss Barton left school at 15. She only came into nursing by chance when she met a nurse who believed in and encouraged her. Eventually, she went on to train as a nurse, but found the tertiary education system bore very little relevance to her culture.

Now, with the encouragement of a Māori nurse academic mentor and participation in the Ngā Manukura ō Āpōpō Māori nursing leadership programme, she’s determined to help make the journey into nursing an easier one for Māori through a Health Research Council (HRC) Māori Health Research PhD Scholarship to develop strategies to improve Māori recruitment and retention into nursing.

Miss Barton says the Māori nursing population has remained static over the past 30 to 40 years at 6 to 7 per cent, well below the 16.5 per cent of Māori in the general population. She says this will be compounded by the predicted severe nursing shortage of up to 15,000 nurses within the next five years as the baby boomers start to retire.

“After overcoming the challenges that are often experienced by Māori entering tertiary education, Māori nurses are then confronted with the reality of working in an environment that frequently conflicts with their own personal beliefs and values. Many of the Māori nurses that I’ve talked to have said that they often feel like a lone voice in the health system advocating for the needs of Māori,” says Miss Barton.

This new research will be based at Auckland University of Technology and follows on from Miss Barton’s Master’s research on Māori experiences of hospitalisation and her current research project at Northtec (Tai Tokerau Wānanga) looking at the recruitment and retention of Māori nurse educators into undergraduate nursing programmes.

“I’ve found that Māori will often park their cultural needs at the door when they go to hospital and will leave as soon as they can. For Māori, our hospitals can be like going to a foreign country. They are often scanning for a Māori face and would prefer to have a Māori nurse, however Māori nurses are very thin on the ground,” says Miss Barton.

For her HRC scholarship, Miss Barton will interview Māori nursing students, registered nurses and key stakeholders to identify the barriers to recruiting and retaining Māori students in undergraduate nursing programmes and explore the issues that might contribute to a culturally unsafe working environment for Māori registered nurses.

HRC Senior Manager of Māori Health Research Investment, Mr Stacey Pene, says Miss Barton’s study has received an enthusiastic response from many quarters, including the Northland District Health Board who have indicated that they hope the findings may influence their workforce development strategy.

“While the Ministry of Health and the Nursing Council of New Zealand are actively promoting the recruitment of Māori nurses – and have identified the retention of Māori within nursing undergraduate programmes as a priority – there is little published research about how to increase and retain the numbers of Māori choosing a nursing career. We are excited to support Pipi with this Māori Health Career Development Award to help address some of these gaps.”

A full list of the HRC’s Māori Health Career Development Award recipients is below. Lay summaries will be available on the HRC website on Thursday, 31 October. Visit and filter for ‘Māori Health Research’ and ‘2020’.

2020 Māori Health Career Development Awards

Māori Health Research Postdoctoral Fellowship

Dr Aria Graham, Whakauae Research Services
Māmā e Mamia - piloting a marae-based wellbeing model for pēpi and māmā Māori
36 months, $ 328,467

Māori Health Research PhD Scholarship

Te Wai Barbarich-Unasa, Auckland University of Technology
Whakamana te reo a ngā rangatahi ki roto i nga tautuhinga hauora
36 months, $ 127,043

Miss Phillipa (Pipi) Barton, Auckland University of Technology
Strategies to improve Māori recruitment and retention into nursing
36 months, $ 127,043

Miss Lisa Kremer, University of Otago
Microdrop administration of phenylephrine and cyclopentolate in neonates
36 months, $ 74,927

Miss Georgia McCarty, University of Otago
Hauora Rangatahi Māori: Appropriateness and acceptability of health measures
36 months, $ 135,000

Māori Health Research Development Grant

Dr Tepora Emery, Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology
He Toa Taumata Rau - The many resting places of courage
24 months, $ 10,000

Ms Carmen Timu-Parata, University of Otago, Wellington
Breastfeeding support for whānau Māori: The Northland experience
12 months, $ 10,000

Māori Health Research Summer Studentship

Miss Hazel Gilbert, Te Puawai Tapu Trust
Māori women and methamphetamine addiction in pregnancy: A literature review
3 months, $ 5,000

Ms Julia Law, University of Otago
Student health professionals’ understanding of tāngata whaikaha Māori concepts
2 months, $ 5,000

Miss Rebecca Lourie, Te Puawai Tapu Trust
Māori women and cervical screening: A Kaupapa Māori literature review
3 months, $ 5,000

Miss Denver Ruwhiu, University of Otago, Wellington
Conflicts of professionalism in medical curricula with Māori tīkanga and values
3 months, $ 5,000

Ms Rian Sanerive, University of Otago
Use of online technology for effective wellness and exercise programme delivery
2 months, $ 5,000

Mr Ben Shine, University of Otago
Positive youth development in Māori youth through an adventure education programme
3 months, $ 5,000


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