Dr Neti Tamarua Herman left her home island of Manihiki at the tender age of 12 in 1964 to further her education on the island of Aitutaki.
Nearly 50 years later, at the age of 61 she completed her PhD in public and youth health.
“Anyone can do it,” she says.
She left Rarotonga to take on doctorate studies at the Faculty of Medical and Health Science at the University of Auckland in 2008.
Dr Herman was not disheartened by the negative comments she had received back home at the time, in fact it motivated her even more.
“Being a woman nothing is easy in life; doing a PhD is easier than having a baby,”
She admits there was a lot of stress involved during her studies and there were times when she felt like giving up.
Her worst nightmare was English.
“I had to learn to write and take a course in English, you sit in with these young kids who rattle away in English with no problem,” she said.
She was also driven to show and encourage her children to pursue their education.
Dr Herman is pleased that her only daughter – a nutritionist – has completed her Marsters and started her PhD studies this year.
“I’ve said to her, if I can do this at 60 years, you can do it young and this is your future,” she said.
“We women - you need to be able to stand on your own feet.”
She researched her community based thesis in Vaka Takitumu based on the Pu Ara O Takitumu with their permission.
Her research is a qualitative study which examined the health and wellbeing of young people on Rarotonga within a socio-economic framework.
In 2014, Dr Herman was presented her doctorate in Auckland.
At the ceremony she thought of her parents Okotai Kairua from the Kairua and Ellis family of Manihiki and Tuainekore Polinahe Alapai from Ngati Pera of Puaikura.
They had always encouraged her to go to school and further her education.
Being a nurse was not a career she had visualised for herself.
The opportunity came about as one of two choices she had to make as a student at Tereora College; her goal then was to attend university in New Zealand.
In 1969, she received her New Zealand School Certificate results, she passed four subjects Biology, Physics, Maths and Geography but had failed in English.
She either had to repeat English the following year or could take up a nursing scholarship in Fiji.
“Nursing was never in my blood, but I did not want to go back to college just to repeat English.
“So I made my decision to take up nursing in Fiji - the best decision I have made in my life with no regrets what so ever.”
In 1970 she boarded the Hercules to begin her nursing studies in Fiji.
The Fiji nursing school in Tamavu, Suva, became her home and life for the next three and half years and she enrolled in the New Zealand nursing programme that was offered.
Shortly after her exams in March 1973, she was overwhelmed to be reunited with her parents - she hadn’t seen for seven years – in Auckland.
Her exam results revealed she had passed the medical and obstetric nursing papers but failed the surgical tests.
Not one to give up, Dr Herman met with the matron of Auckland Hospital and pleaded to re-sit the surgical classes - the response was positive.
“She also arranged for me to attend all surgical lectures at the Auckland School of Nursing with no fees. And employed me as fourth year unregistered nurse.”
In 1974, Dr Herman was elated to pass her exams and graduated as a New Zealand registered general and obstetric nurse.
A few years later, she returned to Rarotonga.
She is a New Zealand registered nurse and midwife and also has an Advanced Diploma in Nursing from Waikato Technical Institute.
Later she pursued post graduate studies in health, and achieved a Bachelor in Health Administration and a Masters in Health Personal Education from the University of New South Wales in Sydney Australia.
Dr Herman went on to take on leadership roles in the medical field that included director positions in government departments and as a nurse consultant at the World Health Organization.
Following her PhD graduation, she was appointed as Director of Public Health, a position she enjoyed and valued until her retirement in October 2017.
In 2019 she was appointed as chairperson for the newly established Cook Islands Nursing Board.
“Nursing is not restricted to women, many think of nursing as a job for females, we have male doctors, why can’t we have male nurses,” she said.