Growing up, nursing was always Rangi Matapo’s ambition.
After the passing of her grandfather the Jim Nicholas, whom she dearly called “dad”, she decided to pursue her dream.
And in God’s timing, she says, a window of opportunity opened: the Ministry of Health advertised for applicants to the Cook Islands School of Nursing.
Retired and current nurses told her stories of her mother in-law, the late Mii Matapo, she realised how much belief she had instilled in Cook Islands nursing, and the legacy she had left to inspire all nurses.
Now, Matapo’s passion has been recognised: she has been named a Champion for Change for her incredible work within the Wellness Clinic at Midland Adult Community Mental Health Service in Perth, Australia.
And Matapo sees herself returning home to Cook Islands one day, to share her vast experience with the Mental Health team of Te Marae Ora.
East Metropolitan Health Service recognised Matapo for her part in creating policies around the roles and responsibilities for the mental health consumer depot preparation and administration for consumers.
She was also recognised for developing the patient booklet, “My Bowel Diary – Staying healthy on Clozapine”.
The Health Service says: “Rangi has received many positive affirmations of appreciation and praise for her hard work and dedication to creating positive change.”
Encouraging others who want to be a Champion for Change, Matapo, a Clinical Nurse Specialist who coordinates the mental health service’s wellness clinic, said it was rewarding to have a purpose for change, “because someone out there will appreciate and acknowledge your hard work.”
Matapo was born and raised in Rarotonga. Now she and her husband Lloyd live in Perth, with their daughter Marua.
Matapo worked as a general nurse at Dr Tereapii Uka’s private medical clinic, and at the Rarotonga Hospital before moving abroad to gain more experience with the Auckland District Health Board Pacific Island Adult Community Mental Health Service in New Zealand, as a clinical nurse and referrals management officer for four years.
At the moment, she is focused at consolidating as much knowledge and experience in mental health nursing as possible.
“In mental health you learn new things almost every day. Individuals may have similar mental health diagnosis but each present differently in terms of symptoms, treatments and care, needs and goals,” she said.
She said, one would ask, why mental health nursing? And for her: “Mental health demonstrates the significant of treating a consumer holistically and person centred, particularly in relation to improve health wellbeing.”
In regards to working with the Cook Islands mental health team she said she is willing to lend a helping hand when and where ever possible.
She visited and introduced herself to the mental health team at the Outpatient clinic in Tupapa in January.
Mental health in the Cook Islands.
There is no doubt Cook Islands rates of mental health disorders have worsened over the years, Matapo says. With ever-growing concerns over the use of alcohol and substances like cannabis and other illicit substances, she expects growing numbers of people diagnosed with alcohol and drug induced psychosis, psychotic episodes, and other forms of mental health disorder.
Whether these people make contact with mental health service is another matter, she says.
Working among Pacific Islands groups with mental health disorders, Matapo says some choose not to discuss or disclose their mental health issues with families or even health professionals – because they fear being stigmatised.
Having mental health illness can be portrayed as embarrassing, shameful or seen as a curse or makutu.
“Mainly because the community at large don't understand mental illness, and some people have negative attitudes or beliefs towards it. Sadly, some mental health professionals have negative beliefs about the people they care for,” she says.
University of Auckland studies, focusing on mental health in the Cook Islands, are great news for Cook Islanders. “Cook Islands lack data and we need data to develop and support policies, create a Model of care for Mental Health specifically for Cook Islands, identify barriers, improve quality interventions and consumer outcomes.”
Matapo says nursing not only plays a critical role in delivering healthcare but can be a stepping stone to leadership roles like our very own Elizabeth Iro – the current Chief Nursing Officer at the World Health Organization.
But, she adds, helping people is a reward itself. “It’s truly satisfying when the care that you’ve provided makes a positive difference in a consumer’s lives. The reward has to be more than a pay cheque.”
Ø In the Cook Islands there is a School of Nursing that offers a three-year diploma programme.
Ø In NZ or Australia, the Bachelor of Nursing is a professionally accredited three-year degree that meets Nursing Board of qualification criteria for registration.
Ø As a graduate of the Bachelor of Nursing, you are prepared to be a safe, articulate and ethical registered nurse who is responsive to health care needs.
Ø Once you receive your registration there are various types of specialisation offered in nursing as a post-undergrad nursing study.
Ø One can develop nursing skills in several specialisations after becoming a registered nurse, some examples include community mental health nursing, paediatric, emergency, palliative care, ENT (ear, nose and throat), theatre, and many others.
Ø Nurses get the opportunity to interact with doctors, consumers, administrators, multidisciplinary team on a daily basis.
Ø Nursing is required to complete ongoing professional development to maintain competencies, enhance their knowledge and understanding, and expand on their practical skills.
Ø You must be prepared to put in the physical work required for the job. You can’t be the type who wants to do the glorious parts of the job and forget about the rest.
Ø You have to expect calls from the hospital to come in and work a shift on your day off because someone called in sick.
"There will be days that there will be no one to take your vital signs, do your wound care, help with lifting, etc. if you can do all that and manage to stay in a reasonable state of mind then nursing is definitely for you."