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Published Friday 5 Jun 2020

Catherine Tu’akalau is aiming to be New Zealand’s first Pacific nurse practitioner focused on child health.

Catherine Tu’akalau is aiming to be New Zealand’s first Pacific nurse practitioner focused on child health.

Already a registered nurse at Hutt Valley DHB, Catherine was recently conferred with her Postgraduate Diploma in Nursing from Massey University.

But that will not be the end of her academic journey.Catherine has three more papers to complete a master’s degree, which puts her on the path to working as a nurse practitioner in our community providing medical advice, prescribing medications and making referrals to specialists.

“I will be able to help people when they are seeking primary health care and hopefully prevent them from needing hospital care. I'm really passionate about my Pacific community and I want to start turning our health statistics around,” Catherine said.

“Working in a hospital like I do now means providing what we call secondary care.

“Kids come in with conditions that are preventable and so I feel, as a nurse practitioner, I could make a difference out in the community.”

Catherine is of Samoan and Tongan descent. Earlier this year she was deployed to Samoa, alongside 14 other nurses, doctors, psychiatrists and clinical specialists, to help respond to the country’s measles epidemic.

“To be given the opportunity to go back to the motherland and share my knowledge, and to work alongside Samoan nurses, was a humbling experience,” she said.

Catherine shared her Massey University graduation story to inspire young Pacific students wondering if they should tackle tertiary study.

“I’d tell them, ‘If you have a dream, you can do it. And in doing that, you can pay your parents back for all the sacrifices they have made for you’.

“I come from a family where sacrifice has been our backbone and we believe sacrifice leads to success. That's my story. My parents worked three or four jobs just to enable me and my siblings to go to school with a packed lunch,” she said.

“My undergraduate degree was a conjoint health science and nursing degree. I had two degrees so I could give one each to my parents – that's why I did a conjoint. Next time, my master's is going to my daughter.”

Throughout the COVID-19 lockdown, the mother of an active toddler juggled work as a paediatric nurse for the Hutt Valley District Health Board, while studying with her family at home 24/

Catherine said she had come to terms with graduating in the middle of a pandemic.

“I'm quite lucky that I walked the stage for my undergrad degree and I'm actually waiting for my master's to do it again,” she said. “If I was graduating with my master's this year and I couldn't walk that stage, I would definitely be gutted.

“It was quite a worrying time, my husband was off work for the four weeks and my work was crazy, as you can imagine. My postgrad studies were the last thing I was thinking about, but I must say, my course coordinator checked in with me regularly, extended assignment deadlines, and told me to focus on my family. I was quite lucky.”

- Special thanks to Massey University for helping to share Catherine’s story.