NMIT graduate advocates for health

NMIT graduate advocates for health

Amber Ford is a qualified nurse working for Te Piki Oranga in Motueka assisting people with chronic disease management.

Amber’s journey with NMIT began in 2010. She originally completed the tourism diploma as a school leaver and was headed toward a lifelong career in hospitality, paved in part by her parents who at the time owned and operated Ford’s Restaurant in Nelson, and The White Morph Kaikoura.

By some twist of fate, Amber headed to America after graduation for a four-month stint as a camp counsellor and lifeguard at a summer camp. While there, she was surprised to learn that the camp staff were struggling to find nurses or health care professionals who would be prepared to care for the camp kids, many of whom had severe disabilities. She also heard story after story of people’s struggles from her camp roommate - a young nurse from Christchurch.

Something clicked inside of her. “I just thought, I could do that.”

Now the natural-born advocate is working as a NetP nurse for Te Piki Oranga - the kaupapa Māori primary health provider for the Top of the South. The service is designed for Māori and Pākehā who live with chronic health issues and need support and assistance.

Amber’s weekly schedule involves visiting patients in their home, finding out how their medication is going, how they are feeling, checking their blood pressure, weight and other vitals, helping organise their doctor’s appointments, and performing assessments if they are unwell. She also runs clinics with other primary health organisers and helps with the food bank aspect of the service.

The role involves plenty of advocacy work guided by tikanga Māori principles and the te whare tapa whā model of health and wellbeing, which Amber loves. “I can’t imagine nursing without it. I’ve found all these other avenues to care for people in addition to medicine.”

The journey from Bachelor of Nursing student to Māori health nurse felt like a natural progression for the 25 year old of Ngāi Tahu descent.

She made great friends at NMIT and really enjoyed her placements, four in total - a district nursing placement going into homes, a hospital placement, a Māori mental health placement, and lastly Te Piki Oranga. While she experienced the usual set of challenges with study like tough assignments and financial strain, Amber says she simply persevered. “I didn’t sail through it, I had to really study, but I learnt heaps.”

Her understanding of her Māori heritage deepened significantly, due in part to her involvement with the Māori students group led by NMIT tutor Kiri Hunter, her participation at the Māori student nurses hui in Christchurch, and also due to learning te reo in earnest. “In my second year of study I went to a family reunion at Tuahiwi Marae in Kaiapoi and I was just like, oh my gosh, I could do so much better.”

For Amber, being able to speak te reo with her patients adds a deeper level of trust to the patient nurse relationship. Not only can she understand them and they her, Amber can now advocate for the correct spelling of patient’s names on prescriptions. “I often have to go to GPs and ask them to change the spelling of names or correct how they’re pronouncing it. I love that I’m able to advocate for that, too.”

For anyone wishing to study nursing at NMIT Amber says: “I didn’t know anything about nursing before NMIT. I thought I’d just be a hospital nurse, but I’ve found a really good niche in Māori health, it is so encouraging. You get a wide range of placements at NMIT which is great and I left feeling really prepared.” 

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