NZ’s first Tongan nurse practitioner upholds her culture and language to best support her patients

Latest News 07 September | Supporting whaanau for nearly twenties years in various nursing roles at Counties Manukau Health (CM Health), nurse practitioner Fakaola ‘I Vaiola Siliva ‘Otuafi loves being at the heart of the Pacific community in South Auckland; working towards better health outcomes for her people.

“I feel like in this role I can provide holistic care for my patients. I can look at it from both medical and nursing viewpoints,” Fakaola says.

“I treat my patients like how I would like someone to treat my mother or anyone in my family. I feel that if I keep on working in this direction, I will not go wrong because I have the ‘ofa (love), fietokoni (caring) and faka’apa’apa (respect) to guide me in whatever I do.”

Moving to New Zealand from Tongan in 1997 to study nursing at Manukau Institute of Technology, Fakaola followed in her mother’s footsteps who is also a nurse back home in Nuku'alofa. Her whakapapa links are to the villages of Nakolo and Pea, Tongatapu.

The first Tongan nurse practitioner in New Zealand and first Pacific nurse practitioner in Counties Manukau, Fakaola has worked mostly in CM Health’s Renal Service.

“Whatever opportunity came to me, I went for it, I did not hold back. It can be challenging at times, but that’s a good thing,” she says.

“I’ve been in multiple roles which has given me opportunity to explore and continue challenging myself to where I am now. I’ve always felt my strength was clinical.”

Living in Auckland with her husband and three children, she teaches her kids not only Tongan traditions, but the importance of gratitude and service.

“There are some [Tongan] traditions that are important to continue, but you’ve also got to remember that they (her children) were born here. I always talk to them on how lucky they are to have lunch every day, to have a pair of shoes, and that they get dropped off and picked up from school. In my time you had to walk to school, walk back home for lunch, and then walk back to school,” she says.

“I dedicate four hours of my time every Saturday to the Langimalie Integrated Family Health Centre in Onehunga. It’s a way for me to give back to my community.”

Being able to speak to Tongan patients in their own language makes a big difference in their care.

It is so useful, especially for [Tongan] patients who can’t speak English. It’s nice to have the conversation in our own language; it makes them feel at ease and builds trust in our relationship. They’re more likely to open up to you.”

Although her extended whaanau are back in Tonga, she is well supported by her Renal and Pacific work whaanau. 

“We’ve got a very strong Pacific network here. I’m heavily involved in it. It makes me feel confident that if I need anything; I will have everyone’s support.”

Tongan Language Week runs from 6 to 12 September. The theme this year is ‘Fakakoloa ‘o Aotearoa aki ‘a e Lotu Mo’oni’ – ‘Enriching Aotearoa through prayer and faith.’

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