“I was up against two big organisations – Ministry of Justice and Fonterra for the award – so had convinced myself I was there that night to enjoy the food and drinks and totally blubbered through my speech I didn’t think I was going to have to make.”
That’s Alexis Cameron – recently appointed Physiotherapy Board member and long-time advocate for bringing Māori and Pacific youth into the health professions. The award she’s talking about is the prestigious HRNZ Emerging Māori HR award – given to her in recognition of the groundbreaking Te Toka Tumai (Auckland DHB) Rangatahi Programme.
The programme gives Māori and Pacific youth the opportunity to start a path toward a healthcare career and includes working alongside experienced practitioners.
It has been running since 2006 and has recently gained NZQA accreditation. Which means year 12 and 13 students who engage with the programme can now earn NCEA credits for it. Alexis says the accreditation acknowledges the value of her students’ cultural capabilities. “Now when we’re showcasing health careers to young people it can be done in a way that delivers credit to the students involved, it shows them that their worldview is valued.
“That’s incredibly important because for so many of them their cultural experience has been presented as a barrier, not an asset. There’s still an unconscious bias in our education system that manifests as signals to Māori and Pacific youth that health careers are ‘too hard’ for them.
“The three main influences on a young person’s career choices are their parents, their teachers, and the members of the profession they are exposed to. This course is about showing Māori and Pacific youth that healthcare is a legitimate option for them.
“And that’s vital because if we want better health outcomes for Māori and Pacific people, we need more practitioners from these communities.”
The benefits run both ways, “For the practitioners we have engaging with the students it’s incredibly beneficial, I think it allows them to see what they do through fresh eyes and for a lot of them it reminds them why they fell in love with the job in the first place.”
“I think the thing with this award,” says Alexis, “is that it recognises the approach we take, and more importantly it shows hugely talented young people who are working toward changing our health system for the better that they are seen.
“I’m incredibly grateful to my lovely colleague who nominated me for this award.”