There were 10 diploma in nursing graduates, nine diploma in advanced nursing practice graduates and 10 bachelors in nursing graduates who received their awards at the National Auditorium.
Secretary for Health Dr Josephine Aumea Herman said the number of graduates coming into the system helped a lot – but nurses were still thin on the ground.
In September this year, the Ministry of Health issued an urgent call for nurses and nursing managers from overseas to apply for jobs in the Cook Islands – but she said they still needed to do more.
The nursing practitioners programme is an important step: “All the graduates are experienced registered nurses. The ministry will be looking to use the nurses to support the health services in the Pa Enua as well as specialised services in Rarotonga.”
Graduate Vainenooapii Mateariki said they were relieved that the journey of finally receiving what they worked hard for was over.
It had been challenging and at times they shed a few tears and so often wanted to give up – but she acknowledged those who constantly reminded them that they could do it.
“There was no way anyone was going to be left behind,” she said. “Everyone has worked so hard to be able to be able to graduate today. Hard work has really paid off.”
Dr Herman said the diploma in nursing programme was an intense academic practice programme culminating with Cook Islands Tertiary Training Institute and Cook Islands nursing registration.
All the 10 new graduate nurses accepted onto the Cook Islands Nursing Council register would be employed as registered nurses for the Ministry.
The year three programme included five weeks in the Pa Enua, five weeks’ pre-registration competency assessment and concluded in three weeks in pacific community health services in Auckland New Zealand.
She added that since the 2014 intake, there had been 24 new registered nurses educated through CITTI, and the nursing school was fully-funded to the tune of $334,000 per year.
In a bid to also improve the skills of nurses, an agreement was made between the ministry and the University of South Australia to run a Dachelor of Nursing degree.
This was the first time a nursing degree had been offered in Cook Islands.
The programme was for three years but with recognition of prior learning of two years, the remaining year of study was run part-time over two years.
Dr Herman said the nurses who completed this degree were all senior registered nurses in the ministry who had been working full-time while studying.