PMA Scholar: Continuing a legacy of service

22 May 2020

For Samoan nursing student Phyllein Pauli Taetafe, it’s learning from the failures in her life that have made her successful.

The Pasifika Medical Association (PMA) scholarship recipient admits her secondary education years were challenging at Otahuhu College, where she was part of the inaugural Science Technology English and Maths (STEM) programme, an initiative supported by the PMA and Pasifika Futures which prepares Pacific high school students for a career in health science or STEM related fields.

“Even though I had great support and amazing opportunities, I wasn’t mentally prepared, so I took any losses hard. I went through the emotions of not feeling I could do much and I also wasn’t comfortable talking to anyone about it.”

But everything changed when Phyllein turned 21 as she changed her focus and her life. She was drawn to a career in nursing because she saw the need for more Pacific students in the health profession and she had experienced firsthand what it was like see a close relative fall critically ill.

Born in Samoa, Phyllein (25) moved to New Zealand with her family when she was seven so her father could be treated for cancer. He died soon after their move and the experience influenced her interest in healthcare.

“I saw it as a blessing and that God was saying to me that this is where I was meant to be,” she says.

Phyllein is in the final year of a Bachelor of Nursing degree at the Manukau Institute of Technology. Last year, she received the Christina Atoa Tapu Nursing Scholarship from the PMA, worth $10,000, to help with her studies.

The PMA have been awarding scholarships to Pacific students and Pacific practitioners for the last two years and all the scholarships are named after life members of the organisation who have given exemplary service to improving the health of Pacific people.

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The scholarship Phyllein received pays tribute to the late Christina Tapu, a pioneer who devoted most of her life to Pacific health, as a nurse, a cultural advisor, mentor and educator. Amongst her many achievements she was the Pacific Cultural Advisor at Middlemore Hospital, the Chair for the Samoan Nurses Association and the National Coordinator of the first survey of Pacific nurses and nursing students. She was awarded a New Zealand Order of Merit in 2005 and a PMA Service Award in 2007.

Phyllein is honored to receive a scholarship named after a Samoan nursing pioneer like Christina Tapu and hopes to continue her legacy.

“I met her son at the awards, and he made a speech and spoke about his mother. I really looked up to her and was honored to hear about her work. I hope to become a great nurse who will make a strong impact on Pacific nursing, just like Christina.”

Phyllein is currently doing her final placement at Starship Hospital and wants to work in children’s healthcare when she finishes her studies.

“I’m a Sunday school teacher and a youth leader so my passion for children does come through. Being a nurse, it’s not the medical side that fulfills me the most but those special moments when you build that trust with your patients.”

She says the job becomes difficult when patients succumb to their illnesses, especially children.

“Seeing children suffer with their illness is sad. But I get my strength from knowing that I’ve given them the best care possible and the times I’ve made them smile, encourages me as I know I’ve done my small part to make them happy.”

She says she can empathize with families after having to overcome the death of her own father when she was just seven years old.

“When my dad was dying, I experienced the process from a child’s lens and now as an adult I’m seeing children being sick, so the emotional connection is real for me and I feel I’ve come full circle.”

Surprisingly, being awarded the scholarship wasn’t about the money, but the fact the Pacific medical community was behind her and other Pacific students.

“Getting recognized for your work boosts your confidence and helps you go that extra mile, knowing that people do care about Pasifika students succeeding in the health sector. We see the majority of our people with major health related issues and it just takes a familiar brown face to help them and brighten up their day.”

Opening date for all scholarships is Monday 25 May 2020. For information on criteria and eligibility of the Scholarships on offer, please see the following link:

http://pacifichealth.org.nz/2020-scholarships/

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Date: Friday 22 May 2020