Taranaki initiative fosters growth in Māori healthcare workforce

7:31 am on 26 February 2024
Treal Niwa is enjoying learning new skills and helping people in a cadetship learning how to be an orthotics technician at Te Whatu Ora Taranaki.

Treal Niwa is enjoying learning new skills and helping people in a cadetship learning how to be an orthotics technician at Te Whatu Ora Taranaki. Photo: RNZ/ Robin Martin

An initiative to help Māori into the health workforce is being credited with almost doubling the proportion of tangata whenua employed at the Te Whatu Ora Taranaki and transforming lives.

When not-for-profit organisation Why Ora was established more than a decade ago Māori only made up about 6 percent of the Taranaki District Health Board's workforce - that now sits at about 10 percent and is growing.

The eldest of eight siblings Treal Niwa (Te Atiawa, Taranaki) is one of the scheme's more recent recruits.

The cadet orthotics technician at Taranaki Base Hospital never imagined he'd work in health.

"Nah, nah, I didn't really think I'd be working at the hospital at all really, so that's quite a fluke actually getting into a job like this, but a very lucky fluke."

Why Ora stepped in when the then 17-year-old had had enough of school.

"At the end of Year 12 once I'd got my NCEA Level 2s I wasn't interested in going back to school for my final year and going onto university, so, I wanted to get a job.

"So, I started looking for jobs and that's when I came across the cadetship that Why Ora and Te Whatu Ora were in partnership with and that was for a cadetship in orthotics."

Why Ora helped prepare Niwa for the interview and he's now been in the job for a year.

"There's no-one else who I can think of in Taranaki who is doing a job like this and for someone to do it so young I think is quite interesting as well.

"So, it's just a very unusual job. There's a lot of different aspects to the job. My job is predominately splitting shoes and raising them for people with leg length discrepancies.

"The patients bring their shoes in, this is once they've been measured and fitted by the orthotist. The orthotist will then give me measurements and from there I just have to split the sole off, apply some EVA [ethylene-vinyl acetate adhesive] for the measurement they are needing in the raise, slap the sole back on and that's that.

Niwa said work boots were the most difficult to raise, requiring him to use a variety of knives to remove the sole.

Why Ora powhakahaere and Māori workforce and research manager at Te Whatu Ora Taranaki, Tanya Anaha.

Why Ora leader Tanya Anaha Photo: RNZ/ Robin Martin

Why Ora powhakahaere and Māori workforce and research manager at Te Whatu Ora Taranaki, Tanya Anaha, said low participation rates of Māori in the health workforce had long been an issue.

"We needed to find avenues to get our people into the health and disabilities sector and they weren't always generally through the tertiary pathway," Anaha said.

"So we looked at how we could provide cadetships to get rangatahi such as Treal into meaningful employment within the health sector that didn't require them to go away immediately after secondary school into a tertiary pathway, because of one, financially, and being away from whānau."

Anaha (Ngāti Kahungunu) said the programme was showing results.

"It's averaging about 10 percent of the workforce at the moment. When we first started this programme is was about 6 percent and had been for a long time.

"But when we talk about Māori getting into the health and disability sector, yes we have cadetships, but we're celebrating at the moment eight doctors that have graduated through our pathway as well. So, yes non-tertiary pathway, but we support those that have gone through the tertiary pathway too."

At present there were five cadets employed through the Why Ora programme at Te Whatu Ora Taranaki.

Anaha said the goal had always been for proportionality, so the ultimate target was for 18 percent of staff to be Māori.

Senior orthotics technician Caroline Briggs worked alongside Niwa .

She reckoned he was a breath of fresh air.

"Look he's hard to keep in line, but we're working on it. It's a work in progress.

"No, actually he's a really nice chap and as we've got to work together I've come to really appreciate his skills and his manner and his professionalism and how he interacts with his patients."

Briggs said Niwa had all the right qualities for the job.

"You have to be quite open-minded and you have to be willing to learn and willing to change and adapt and think outside the box, so things can't just be black and white. There's a whole mass of grey in amongst there and you have to be willing to ask questions."

Niwa said the work was rewarding.

"Just helping other people I think makes this job enjoyable. That gives me a reason to look forward to coming to work each day because I'm not here not actually enjoying my job - I'm enjoying my job. Yeah, and the people make it better too. My work colleagues are really cool, yeah."

The 18 year-old - who said he wanted to be a role model to his siblings - now had plans to study to become at orthotist in either Australia or the United States.

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