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Cleaning out the cupboards

President Anne Daniels
NZNO Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa

One of my first comments in Kaitaiki as President briefly looked at beginnings. Beginnings suggest there may be an end. It seems that organisations such as ours (NZNO), have natural life cycles. First there is a vision that becomes a reality or start-up when the organisation is formally founded. Next comes growth, followed by sustainability and relevance.

The last stage of an organisation is characterised by stagnation and renewal. It could be argued that NZNO has been at this stage. Our current organisation was founded when nursing was a very different profession than it is today. It reminds me of that feeling you get in spring and decide to clean out the cupboards and start afresh.

Thirty years ago (1 April 1993) NZNO was formed. The amalgamation of the Nurses’ Association and union was an attempt to reduce the dilution of our nursing voice. Disparate voices within our profession have allowed others to fill the void and speak for us in the past. Over the years NZNO work focused largely on beneficial change for its members within a health system structure imposed, dominated, and controlled by others.

Today we must ask ourselves where we need to go as a union from here on in. If we hang on to the old ways of being, and do not clean out our cupboards by challenging the status quo within and without, we will become less relevant as an influential professional group in the health care discourses that will shape our future.

I would like to ask members whether they believe that our current infrastructure, systems, policies, and processes are fit for purpose. For some time now, members representing different sectors of NZNO, have been calling for change. What that change might look like is another question but this all poses an opportunity to look forward. How we make it happen is yet another question.

What I do know is that we need leadership to grow at our grassroots i.e. within our membership. That leadership must also be insightful, able to learn from our past and present so they can be owners of nursing and the role we take, in shaping our health system. Our current health system is not fit for purpose as it is not delivering health care which meets the needs of our indigenous and diverse nation, it remains medical-model-centric, and is a long way from eliminating the social determinant inequities that lead to poor health for many.

Change and real leadership go hand-in-hand. Our current and future leadership must be inclusive, collaborative, consistent in demonstrating tino rangitatiratanga from the start and going forward so we can build a new vision for the future of nursing in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Our union can bring that vision to fruition if we have the will and commitment to do so.

Perhaps we need to think about how we grow our leaders, and develop clear pathways to succession planning (identification, development, and engagement of future leaders)? Where does ‘membership led’ fit into all of this, what does it really mean, and what does it look like?

These questions must be discussed, debated and decided. Above all, NZNO must have a compelling purpose and engage in the mahi that is meaningful and beneficial to our members and those we care for.

A wise woman (Frances Haugen) said not so long ago, “we solve problems together: we don’t solve them alone (Perrigo, 2021). The union is us. Being a member of our union means that every one of us must participate in these conversations and move forward together.

Christiaens, G. (2016). Current issues in Nursing Associations in Policy and Politics in Nursing and Health Care. (Editors: Mason, Gardner, Outlaw, & O’Grady.)

Perrigo, B. (2021). The making of a whistleblower. The Listener, December 6/December 13.

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Grass is only greener where you water it

Kerri Nuku, Kaiwhakahaere
NZNO, Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa

The grass is always greener on the other side (of the fence). In terms of Australia there is red dirt, heat, sand and surf. The slang is different, and Australian wildlife is something you can’t compare.

A nurse friend of mine recently returned from working on a short-term contract in Australia. When she first talked about going, the prospect of her leaving seemed far-fetched. I thought the “red tape” would be cumbersome and would surely cause delays. I was confident we could get in a few more lunches or as we refer to it: “space to catch our breath and talk”.

However, it was barely a week later when she confirmed that her tickets were booked, accommodation arranged, and she was off on her overseas experience. The process did not seem complicated at all.

Sitting there listening to her kōrero, I wait for her to catch her breath. I hear of all her experiences, new friends, colleagues and a healthier bank balance with a desire to return and do more.
This nurse has always been the warrior who would operate in stealth mode, doing what needs to be done, actioning things you won’t find in standing orders – and all done in stealth mode.

Nurses are often the people other health professionals take for granted. We personify the so-called “it takes a special kind to do the job”. Nursing requires more of the individual – and so we inherently bring more to the sector. Yet we don’t think about it; we do it because we can and therefore, we’re not valued for the evolved responsibilities.

The value of nursing continues to be challenged. In 2020 the International Council of Nurses theme: “The year of the nurse and midwife” was for the first time intended to profile the role of nurses, to showcase the invaluable asset of nursing while investigating the wealth of validity and expansion of the profession. But the pandemic dominated what should have been our time. Instead, every media outlet made like a virus, replicating the spread and destruction of Covid-19. Still the nurses went to war and did what they do best, silently dealing with the carnage, every now and again raising their voices only to be ignored.

So is it any wonder our nurses are leaving for other shores to experience new opportunities, to feel valued in their chosen area of expertise? We have to ask what it is going to take to abate the flow.

This whakataukī focuses on the importance of nurturing what matters to us. It’s about taking care of the things we hold dear to us so that they can thrive. If something in your life is not thriving, consider that you might not be giving it enough time, focus or attention.

The grass is only greener where you water it.

Kite kore ngā pūtake e makūkūngia e kore te rākau e tupu.
If the roots of the tree are not watered, the tree will never grow.