But for a twist of fate, Nicole Pihema (Ngāpuhi) could easily have been plying her trade in the business world instead of the midwifery career that has led to her new role as Chief Hauora Māori Clinical Officer Midwifery. 

Nicole had completed a degree in business, tourism and international business and was offered an internship in Colorado, United States, to build her business knowledge and skill, but the pull of whānau put pay to a life in the corporate world. 

“I was a young māma myself and it was where I started to grow this love of caring for others, when the internship offer came up, I thought about the lack of whānau support I’d have overseas for my child. I also realised I didn’t like business, it was not a caring world, it was dog- eat-dog, the opposite of what I wanted,” laughs Nicole. 

“So, I changed course and went to Australia where I had a network of friends and support, and that’s where I applied to get into midwifery in Sydney. It wasn’t easy because I didn’t get in when I applied, but the resilience kicked in because I wanted it and fortunately, I made the cut the second time around.” 

The rest, as the saying goes, is history.  

Nicole completed her first clinical practice year as a midwife at Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital, Sydney collaborating with Māori and Pacific māma and whānau, before the call of her Ngāpuhi roots brought her home to Te Tai Tokerau and Bay of Islands Hospital, following the loss of her grandmother. 

Now based in Kawakawa, she joined Te Aka Whai Ora in March after a 15-year career which has seen her practice midwifery and stints in governance including six years as regional chair of College of Midwives (2014-19) and President of the NZ College of Midwives (2019-23). 

Her why for the mahi is simple to explain. 

“Everything I’ve done has whānau at the centre, whether it has been in practice or leadership positions, that’s what keeps us focused in this mahi. We have specific needs, and we have an opportunity to effect some of the change required to improve outcomes for whānau,” says Nicole. 

“I think of my Nan and the birthing experience she had in her time, and then I think of my mokopuna and what they’re going to experience. They all have come into a world that doesn’t have an Ao Māori approach and I’d like to think that by keeping whānau at the forefront, we will continue to make progress in the right direction. 

“I also keep abreast of the research that comes out. I am constantly grounded and humbled because the research isn’t just a number or words, we can put real faces behind those numbers and humanise the data. That way, you hold on to the empathy needed to focus on genuine outcomes and hauora as determined by whānau. 

“Around 12 percent of our midwifery workforce is Māori, and we have more work to do. We want more Māori in the midwifery workforce caring for our whānau, because when you have a collective of whānau around you, the innovation grows, the dreams become a reality and you can provide a level of familiarity and comfort that enables more whānau towards tino rangatiratanga.” 

Nicole has set herself some simple goals for her role. 

“One of my goals is to ensure the mahi commenced with Te Aka Whai Ora continues. While there is change, the work continues for us. We’re still accountable to the same people – our whānau – and we can’t forget that,” explains Nicole. 

“We don’t want to revert back to old habits, we will have to compromise but we’ll always champion whānau and ensure our mahi is collaborative to ensure we remove barriers to care for our whānau.”