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Protected by my korowai: Being bullied while on a clinical placement helped one nursing student find her voice and make positive changes for others.

   Ko wai au? Anei ahau.
   Ko Maataatua te waka,
   Ko Matiti te maunga
   Ko Waioweka te awa
   Ko Te Whakatohea te iwi
   Ko Ngati Ira te hapu, Ko Opeke te marae
   Ko Irapuaia te whare tipuna
   Ko Te Kurapare te whare kai
   Ko Ani Tai toku ingoa.

Ko wai au? "Kia whakatane au i ahau Let me act the part of a man", Muriwai is reported as saying.

I am a Maori, a strong woman, a mother of one and a descendant of Muriwai, sister of the captain of the Mataatua waka, Toroa. Muriwai has gifted my iwi, hapu and whanau her korowai that I wear every day. It is a metaphorical cloak of mana, ihi and kaha. I cherish it deeply.

I use these aria (concepts) to overcome the challenges that our whanau face in our ever-changing world. I wore my tipuna Muriwai's korowai to all my student placements. This symbol of strength and spirit is an armour that reflects my identity, compassion, mana, wairua and aroha. Every feather, muka, whenu and aho woven into this korowai represents a part of my life and the journey I take.

The kaupapa of this korero is about overcoming adversity through cultural heritage and aria.

Have you been bullied? As you read my korero, try to remember how you felt when that happened.

As a second-year nursing student at Toi Ohomai Waiariki Institute of Technology, I was bullied throughout most of my medical/surgical clinical placement. I arrived at my placement half an hour early, wearing my korowai. I was eager and willing to learn. During handover, I greeted everyone with a smile. At the end of handover, someone said: "Now who wants the student?"

An awkward silence followed. Nurses shook their heads. "No, I don't want a student," I heard them say.

I experienced a similar scenario at every handover and my korowai took a beating. My feathers were falling off. He ngeki te whatu te toku kakahu--the weaving of my cloak became loose. It was slowly losing its mana, ihi and kaha. I was heartbroken, as I felt unwanted and unwelcomed.

My shifts "dragged" as I was told to just follow along. I informed my student nurse educator (SNE) who spoke to the ward clinical nurse manager (CNM) about the matter. My placement got worse. A couple days after voicing my concerns, I was called to the CNM's office. She sat me down and said:

"Now, I'm only going to tell you this once. You are going to have to go with whoever we can put you with. I'm sorry, but this is the best we can do. You are not going to get a consistent preceptor. That's just the way it is. "

After what I felt was a "growling", I though I wouldn't tell my SNE anything again--I didn't want to rock the boat. I felt rejected.

A couple days later, not fully recovered from my session with the CNM, the shift leader asked me to go with a newly-graduated registered nurse (RN). I felt curious and excited, and could feel the feathers being slowly woven back onto my kakahu. As I walked out of handover, a senior nurse took me aside and told me I wasn't allowed to go with a new graduate. I should know this, she said. Why didn't I speak up at the time?

I was confused. I didn't know what was going on. All I knew was that someone wanted me--I didn't care who it was. I was going to learn something today. My korowai seemed to be getting its strength back.

After talking with the senior nurse, the shift leader pulled me aside again. She asked what the senior nurse and I had been talking about. I was speechless.

The Nursing Council's code of conduct and RN competencies were running through my mind:

Principle 6: Work respectfully with colleagues to best meet health consumers' needs.

Principle 6.4: Your behaviour towards colleagues should always be respectful and not include dismissiveness, indifference, bullying, verbal abuse, harassment or discrimination. Do not discuss colleagues in public places or on social media. (1)

Competency 2.5: Acts appropriately to protect oneself and others when faced with unexpected health consumer responses, confrontation, personal threat or other crisis situations. Indicator: Implements nursing responses, procedures and protocols for managing threats to safety within the practice environment. (2)

Respect is inherent in all these guidelines but where was it in my situation?

The shift leader stormed off and argued with the senior nurse in the corridor about the matter. This was not professional and I had a feeling something bad was going to happen.

The senior nurse then approached me and asked if she could speak to me in the staff kitchen. She pretty much told me: "In this ward it is best if you just shut your mouth. That way you won't get into trouble, ok? So just shut it. "

My korowai by this stage was suffering. Every aho binding the whenu together was falling apart. It was beginning to lose its protective properties.

My feathers were falling off. He ngeki te whatu te toku kakahu--the weaving of my cloak became loose. It was slowly losing its mana, ihi and kaha.

This incident "knocked me back" a few paces. I had been trying to regain control, but had been taking my take (matters) home. This was causing both me and my partner grief. A career I loved and could not wait to start seemed suddenly very unappealing. I was at breaking point.

I looked at my korowai and planned to fight back. As I picked up every feather lost on the ward, I asked myself: "Why am I doing this? Why am I here? Ko wai au?"

During the next incident, I found the strength to fight back--same ward, same placement, different day, different preceptor.

I was caught walking out of a patient's room after delivering her breakfast without wearing any personal protective equipment (PPE). The patient had influenza. A nurse yelled at me as I came back into the corridor. She had been watching me and was ready to pounce.

"Where are your gloves, mask and gown? Where are the trolleys that are supposed to be outside this room? Where's the signage?" she yelled at the top of her voice.

I turned back and said: "That is not my patient and I absolutely know this information was not given during the handover. "

I quickly got the PPE that was stacked in a trolley, while the nurse argued with the CNM outside the patient's door. I had washed my hands and went to get the signage which warns a patient is infectious. This signage hangs on the outside of the patient's door, and states how the infection is transmitted. I flipped the signage to "droplet".

"It's airborne," she yelled.

I remembered my training on transmission-based precautions for influenza. Influenza is not spread by airborne transmission.

Droplet transmission happens when germs are spread in a tiny drop of liquid. When a person talks, sings, coughs, sneezes or laughs, many invisible droplets form. ... The flu (influenza) and whooping cough (pertussis) are spread this way. (3) Airborne transmission is the spread of germs over long distances or for a long time through the air. This happens on dust particles or by tiny particles that are made when talking, singing, sneezing, coughing or laughing.... Tuberculosis (TB), measles, chickenpox and Aspergillus can spread this way. (3)

I knew it was "droplet"--but I did what she asked and flipped the card to "airborne".

During handover, a doctor led an in-service on influenza germs and transmission precautions. This nurse was the only one who did not attend the session but I sure enjoyed changing the signage from airborne to droplet afterwards.

Despite everything, my placement overall was a success. During the last week, I was given a preceptor who was helpful and welcoming. However, I did not want any of my fellow students to go through this experience. I ended up speaking up to my SNE, which resulted in positive outcomes for the next students on the ward.

Feeling valued

I only hope the cuLture of this ward has changed and the bullying has stopped. I do know that students who followed me were given consistent preceptors and made to feel welcome and part of the team. They were never made to feel like an inconvenience. They felt valued.

My message to those who are struggling is to find your voice and speak up. Think about the positive changes you can make for those who follow you. Speaking up not only strengthens your korowai, but protects the integrity of the korowai of others.

I want to thank my SNE for being so supportive, sympathetic and understanding. She navigated her way through my Maori ways and finally helped me overcome all of this. She created a safe space or whenua where I felt free to express my concerns.

My partner, who was my shoulder to cry on through these tough times, helped me pick up my feathers and strengthen the loose whenu and aho. He gave me the strength to speak up and not back down.

My korowai, woven back together with every whenu and aho in its proper place, maintains its mana, ihi and, most of all, its protection. It accomplished its job, kept me safe and made me stronger.

No reira tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

Ani Tai, RN, BN, works as a practice nurse at Whakatohea Health Centre in Opotiki. She has just completed a one-year nurse-entry-to-practice programme.


(1) Nursing Council of New Zealand. (2012). Code of Conduct for Nurses. Wellington: Author.

(2) Nursing Council of New Zealand. (2012). Competencies for Registered Nurses. Wellington: Author.

(3) Cystic Fibrosis Foundation New Zealand, (n.d.). Respiratory--what you should know about germs,

Caption: Ani Tai, shortly after her graduation in 2016, wearing a korowai handed down through her whanau.
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Title Annotation:reflection
Author:Tai, Ani
Publication:Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand
Date:Feb 1, 2018
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