Meriol Schuster is a third year nursing student and vaccinating health worker who works at South Waikato Pacific Islands Community Services (SWPICS) in Tokoroa. She has received Pacific Health Scholarship funding from Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora to help with her course costs for all three years of her study. This is her story.

I’ve lived in Tokoroa all my life, but my family is from the Cook Islands. I’m a proud wife to my Samoan husband, and mother to two girls aged 10 and 7.

My BA in Social Development originally took me into whanau development but during the COVID-19 lockdowns we had to halt everything we were doing and help in other ways. First, I was involved in getting food to our communities and then doing admin with the vaccination and testing clinics that SWPICS was running. I was inspired by the work I had been a part of and I knew I could do more.

I remember saying to my Mum before I started my first degree that I wanted to be a nurse. But at that time there was a great push for Pacific grandchildren to go to university and I think that clouded my judgement a little. Now times have changed and we’re looking at trades, apprenticeships and a variety of career pathways. I was passionate about nursing then, and I’m still passionate about it now.

I wouldn’t have been able to do everything I have done without the support of SWPICS. I earn a full-time wage and have to meet certain KPIs [key performance indicators] so I work hard, but I also study hard.

I’ve received three rounds of Pacific Health Scholarships support and it’s been everything. My previous degree meant I didn’t qualify for student loans or allowances so without the scholarship I wouldn’t have been able to do this degree and re-train. A colleague received one and told me about it, but so did our CEO, Akarere Henry, and all my friends tag me on Facebook whenever the new round of applications opens.

In my work so far I’m struck by the low levels of health literacy in our communities. Too many people simply don’t know what medication they’re taking and that the decisions they’re making affect their health.

Pacific people are very proud. We don’t like to take time off work to go to the doctor, we want to always be providing for our families. There are also other barriers for our Pacific and rural communities such as cost or the lack of available appointments because there are not enough doctors.

I love that I get to meet so many different people. I have done a number of placements throughout my three years of studying: Taupo in mental health; Tokoroa ED; in-patient care at a resthome; in the Well Child space meeting babies and families. I’ve met really passionate healthcare workers and lots of sometimes very sick patients.

When I get to the end of my career, I hope I have educated people about health and wellbeing and the vital part that making healthy choices can play in their lives. I want to inspire other Pacific young people to take up working in the healthcare space. It’s rewarding when you see the impact that you make in people’s lives from the small work that you do.

Find out more about Pacific Health Scholarships and the Vaccinating Health Worker pathway.

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