Nursing was good way to meet girls
Tonga’s first male nurse may admit he studied nursing for the ‘‘wrong reasons’’, but he is now encouraging other Pacific students to choose the vocation he eventually fell in love with.
‘‘It’s a bit embarrassing,’’ Sione Vaka says. ‘‘My friend and I decided to go to nursing school because we thought it would be good, we would get to look like doctors and meet girls.’’
Mr Vaka and his friend were the first men to be accepted to Tonga’s nursing programme after the gender entry rules changed in 1993.
Mr Vaka had a talent for health care and after one year of study in Tonga, he was granted a full scholarship to study in New Zealand.
Despite coming into the country with minimal English, he completed his bachelor of nursing in three years.
‘‘When I started nursing I found out that I was contributing to society, especially with the Tongan men who were uncomfortable with the female nurses and weren’t disclosing important information.’’
Nowadays Mr Vaka works at the Manukau Institute of Technology as a senior lecturer and helped design the bachelor of nursing Pacific, which is in its second year.
The course is tailored towards Pacific ways of learning and is about a third the size of the mainstream class, allowing for more oneon-one teaching.
Mr Vaka says nursing is a good pathway for Pacific people.
‘‘Our statistics loudly,’’ he says.
‘‘Pacific people have poor health and live in low socioeconomic areas but our number of people in the nursing workforce are low. We need to make it more equal.’’
The Statistics New Zealand website indicates Pacific people are much more likely to develop heart conditions, stroke or diabetes than their Maori or Pakeha counterparts.
The website adds that Pacific people comprise nearly 7 per cent of the nation’s population, yet they make up only 2.8 per cent of all enrolled or registered nurses.
Mr Vaka says a higher concentration of Pacific health workers can help make non-Pacific people more aware of cultural differences.
Pacific Horizon Health Centre clinic manager Jennifer Tuagalu says the ability to speak Pacific languages is what makes a difference to its services.
The Blockhouse Bay clinic services a patient base that is around 95 per cent Pasifika, and has several Pacific nurses and locum doctors on staff.
‘‘It is quite hard to find experienced Pacific people, and that’s what we look for.’’
She says health workers who speak a Pacific language are rare ‘‘and that’s a real barrier’’.
Hospital corner: Sione Vaka was one of the first men in Tonga to take up the opportunity to study nursing, now he is a senior lecturer at Manukau Institute of Technology.