Watching a nurse care for her brother dying of cancer spurred Charlene McGehan to sign up for the Bachelor of Nursing degree at UCOL Te Pūkenga Whanganui.
Born and raised in Lautoka, on the western side of Fiji, she also acknowledges Maunisolo, in Kadavu as her village. Charlene and her husband have lived here in Whanganui, Dubai and the Maldives while raising two children.
The 45-year-old says finding out what she wanted to do happened later in life. It was during the final phase of her brother’s life; she saw the care the nurses took with him to make his last few hours as comfortable as possible and were so empathetic.
“It’s hard, though,” says Charlene. Traditionally, PI (Pacific Island) women give and give until they end up broken. It’s hard to say to someone to think about what you want to do before the kids leave home. I am a mature student, and it was the best decision to get back into the classroom. It’s never too late.”
When the McGehan’s moved back to Whanganui, Charlene was pleased to see UCOL Whanganui offered the nursing program
In 2020, Charlene completed the NZ Certificate in Study and Career Preparation Health
Pathway programme. “I decided to do that after talking with the lecturers. It had been a long time since I was in the classroom.”
In 2021, she received the Pati Family Scholarship, and by her second year, Charlene was a peer tutor for year-one nursing ākonga. By the end of that year, she had taken on a 3-hour-a-week Peer Mentor - Pasifika role with Student Services.
“For my part, I want to know my community. I want to be approachable, so start here with PI students and create connections with them and their whānau.”
“I think connections are key to better health outcomes. By having more PI in the workforce, we can use these connections to improve patient experiences that will eventually lead to hopefully an increase in access to health services for those who need treatment and their families.”
Studying, working, and raising a family all at once is demanding. However, Charlene likes to get away from it by taking her two dogs for a walk and circuit training. “Especially after sitting in class for up to three hours at a time. It helps me to reflect.”
Despite living in some glamorous places, Charlene says, “Whanganui is our home now. It’s where I’ll practice once I graduate.”