New structure to provide equity for all students: building on the work of those who have preceded them, new student leaders Michelle Wipiiti and Paula King ere committed to ensuring the new national student unit structure gives all students a voice.
Subject: Nursing students (Beliefs, opinions and attitudes)
Nursing students (Social aspects)
Cultural competence (Educational aspects)
Minority college students (Beliefs, opinions and attitudes)
Minority college students (Social aspects)
Intercultural education (Management)
Author: Manchester, Anne
Pub Date: 02/01/2009
Publication: Name: Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand Publisher: New Zealand Nurses' Organisation Audience: Trade Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health; Health care industry Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 New Zealand Nurses' Organisation ISSN: 1173-2032
Issue: Date: Feb, 2009 Source Volume: 15 Source Issue: 1
Topic: Event Code: 290 Public affairs; 200 Management dynamics Computer Subject: Company business management
Geographic: Geographic Scope: New Zealand Geographic Code: 8NEWZ New Zealand
Accession Number: 194904192

Making a positive contribution towards shaping the teaming environment for all nursing students, both current and future, is what motivates National Student Unit (NSU) chair Michette Wipiiti.

A third-year student at Unitec in Auckland, Wipiiti was elected chair at the NSU AGM in September. Having a younger sister and cousin who are both nursing students and her eldest daughter now expressing an interest in becoming a nurse, are other factors driving Wipiiti to ensure the student experience is as positive as possible.

To come into the role at a time when the NSU has moved to work in equal partnership with Te Runanga Tauira (TRT) is a real privilege, she says. At its meeting in December, the board of directors agreed to a rule change allowing the NSU to increase its membership to one NSU and one TRT representative for each nursing school. This potentially increases NSU membership from 21 to 38. Wipiiti believes this development shows partnership in action and is evidence of students' desire to achieve fairness and equity.

"This rule change is good for the whole of NZNO, not just for students," she said. "Partnership is about action, not just words. This new model provides the student unit with a strong foundation to build on. This is a positive step and is in keeping with NZNO's own strategic plan. Working in partnership with TRT will ensure the continuing success of the NSU because together we have already achieved excellent results, partly because our aims and concerns are interconnected."

Wipiiti believes her own culturally diverse background gives her an advantage in helping her understand what TRT is striving for. On her Maori side, she identifies with Te Atiawa, Te Arawa and Ngai Tahu, while she also honours her Scottish, French and Italian heritages. Her three daughters, aged 15, 11 and nine, also claim American, Samoan and Tokelau cultural roots, making what Wipiiti refers to as "a fruit salad family. My ethnicity is just a small part of who I am. Having such a varied background helps me remain open minded to all cultural and ethnic groups."

Twenty years ago, when she was 16, Wipiiti completed a link certificate in nursing. She liked the contact she observed nurses having with their clients, but nursing at that time didn't seem an attractive career choice. Instead she went into retail, and over the years has worked for a variety of organisations including the Institute of Environmental Science and Research's marine biotoxin and public health laboratories in Porirua, eventually moving into the finance industry as a broker. She has brought up her children largely on her own over the last nine years, but is grateful for the support from her extended family. "I love being a parent. Children can teach you so much, especially about yourself. I am awestruck at how quickly my girls are able to use new technology without even having to look at the users manual!"

However, she always knew she would eventually go nursing.

Wipiiti has also done a lot of community work over the years, including volunteering with Victim Support and the Citizens Advice bureau. Her focus has always been on being of service to others.

For the last year and a half she has been a caregiver for her 84-year-old grandmother who is still recovering from major surgery and a stroke, though is now more mobile than a few months ago. "It's been wonderful being able to apply everything I have learnt in my nursing studies to how I care for her. Having my grandmother, who raised me, living with us has also been great for my children. I know, when I leave the house, my daughters can be relied on to do whatever is necessary to care for her."

During her first and second years at Unitec, Wipiiti chose to study part-time. "Doing a nursing degree is very demanding, so having the flexibility that Unitec offers has been good for me and my family." She now has the choice of completing her studies in June this year or extending them out until November. She will continue in the chairing rote until NZNO's centennial conference in September, and is also aware of the need to do some succession planning.

Wipiiti has been enjoying the challenges of her new leadership role, particularly producing a few press releases and seeing one published. As far as her own nursing career is concerned, she remains open to any and all opportunities that may arise. "I love all areas of nursing and have enjoyed all my clinical placements so far. Each one is an opportunity to learn and my thirst for knowledge is unquenchable. A nursing degree offers far more than I ever imagined and the opportunities for personal growth are just wonderful. I have always been interested in medical/surgical nursing but have just completed my third-year mental health praxis paper which has sparked an interest in possibly becoming a Duly Authorised Officer. I will took at applying for a new graduate programme initially, as I believe that's the best way of consolidating my skills. Nursing offers such a wealth of opportunities and I want to continue with postgraduate studies, progressing through to a master's degree at least."

The cost of doing a nursing degree remains the greatest challenge for most nursing students, Wipiiti says. With annual fees of around $15,000, most students and their families have to make huge sacrifices. The lack of suitable clinical placements with experienced preceptors is another impediment. "I am aware some students have missed out on suitable placements due to demands from other nursing schools in their region. Some preceptors are fantastic nurses but may lack the preceptor experience to facilitate and enhance a student's clinical learning experience."

For all that, Wipiiti believes now is a good time to go nursing, with more specialist roles available and some fantastic nursing role models to emulate. "Nurses can advance academically while remaining on a clinical pathway, eventually becoming a nurse practitioner if they choose--I find this very appealing. There are also many opportunities to nurse abroad and the pay, at least in some areas, is improving. I encourage people of all ages to consider a career in nursing."

Maintaining connections between the 291 Maori nursing students throughout the country and providing them with some support are important rotes for Te Runanga Tauira (TRT), according to its new chair Paula King.

"Maori students are in the minority and can easily become isolated," she said. "Most nursing schools offer some kind of Maori room or kaiawhina support, but not all. Having a TRT delegate in every school will help Maori students remain connected, boost their confidence and enable them to share their study experiences. My job is to help provide that support and readership."

King wants to see Maori student retention and completion rates improved, so the number of Maori working in the health and disability workforce increases. "We need to keep our Maori students so they can make a difference once they are out in the workforce. It is really encouraging to see two new Maori nursing degree programmes beginning this year, as research and experience shows Maori do better in culturally specific learning environments."

King sees the new NSU structure as a positive step forwards and a natural development for the unit. She would like to assure all those NZNO members who have concerns about the new structure that TRT includes all students, even though the membership is Maori. "Any student concern is our concern too," she said. "We will support any issue that affects students as a whole."

TRT has moved on from the disappointment of the lost remit at NZNO conference last September that would have seen an extra student seat (the TRT chair) on the board of directors. "We are now committed to making the new structure work. At the end of 2008 we had seven nursing schools with TRT representatives. Now that the board has given its approval [at its December meeting], we will find delegates for the remaining ten institutions. It's wonderful NSU members reached a unanimous decision to move to this new structure.

"TRT's role is to work in partnership alongside and within the NSU to serve as student advocates at national and international levels. Our primary objectives are, however, to offer a Maori perspective on student issues, to increase Maori student nurse numbers, to ensure student safety within clinical placements and institutions, to lobby for political/educational change relevant to the needs of all students, to encourage the retention of Maori nurses and, of course, to increase NZNO student membership, regardless of cultural background."

Like NSU chair Michette Wipiiti, King is also in her 30s and has to balance her studies with the demands of a busy family life. Now starting her second year of studies at the Western Institute of Technology in Taranaki, she is mother to five children, two boys aged 15 and 8, and three girls aged 14, 13 and 11. "Now that they are all at school, studying has becoming a little easier," she said. "My husband, who mostly works at night, is able to do a tot of the home stuff, so that makes my rife much easier. Adjusting to the learning environment can be a bit difficult, but if you know that this is what you want to do, then you just take it step by step and even the hard bits are enjoyable."

Three years ago, King's father and a niece both died of cancer. Watching them as they struggled with their deteriorating hearth really opened her eyes to people's vulnerability as weft as their strength during challenging times. These experiences also inspired her to go nursing, though midwifery might have been her preference if a programme had been available in Taranaki. "I wish I could have done my nursing degree earlier, but as a mature student you do have a tot of commitment and passion to offer."

King Likes to succeed in whatever she undertakes and is determined to fill the TRT Leadership rote to the best of her abilities, standing for a second year if she has the support. "I have met so many interesting people in both Te Runanga and the NSU, that I would Eke to continue if at all possible. I have also taken this rote on for my kids because I want to help give them a good future too."


As a mature student, King understands the financial barriers many face when choosing to go nursing. "It can be really tough for some people giving up a steady income to become a full-time student. Not everyone is as fortunate as I am to have a spouse who is able and willing to take on most of the domestic responsibilities."

Like Wipiiti, King has also done a tot of retail work, managing a righting store and a children's clothing shop. Working in retail satisfied her desire to relate to people, an aspect of her personality she is quite sure will find a good fit within nursing.

Meanwhile, she looks forward to improving communication between Maori students and to working with Wipiiti and her deputy Kerry Batty, as well as with her own vice chair Michelle Roche during the coming year. She would like to help change the student perspective that NZNO is primarily an organisation that offers indemnity insurance. She wants students to know how much more NZNO can offer. King is inspired by the network of people she has met through Te Runanga and the NSU. "Being able to belong to both gives me the best of both worlds."

As to her own nursing future, she is leaving her options open. "The opportunities are just so broad. There is plenty of time to make these sorts of decisions."
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