Leading by example wins nurse award

04:16, Sep 10 2012

A woman who wanted to be a nurse at the age of 3 and went on to pioneer the role of surgeon's assistant at Wairau Hospital has been honoured nationally.

But it is her work as a diabetes educator with Maori that Heather Oelrich counts among her most successful initiatives.

Mrs Oelrich was awarded the New Zealand Nurses Organisation's service to nursing award in a ceremony at Wairau Pa near Grovetown on Friday.

NZNO Top of the South Regional Council member Jo Janssen said Mrs Oelrich was nominated for the award because of her lifelong service to nursing, particularly in Marlborough with Te Hauora O Ngati Rarua, where she developed the role of Maori diabetes nurse educator, and as Maori health manager at the Blenheim Primary Health Organisation/Kimi Hauora Wairau.

She also spent 23 years working as a surgeon's assistant, including pioneering the role at Wairau Hospital.

Mrs Oelrich told the group of about 30 family and friends that she had wanted to be a nurse since she was 3 years old.


Her dream had been to work with Maori along the Whanganui River near where she grew up, but she was turned down for a similar role soon after qualifying as nurse.

Instead she had to wait two decades to fulfil her dream, taking up the role with Te Hauora O Ngati Rarua.

For the next 15 years she dedicated her time to improving Maori health including creating the role of diabetes nurse educator in 2005, the first role of its kind in the country, before moving to the Kimi Hauora Wairau in 2010.

Te Hauora O Ngati Rarua chairwoman Molly Luke said Mrs Oelrich had broken new ground and raised the mana of the people with her work.

Mrs Oelrich said her diabetes work involved a positive focus on education and prevention including healthy eating and activity and had broad benefits.

"It's focusing on wellness because quite often people get a condition but they can still keep well by lifestyle changes. While the focus is on diabetes it impacts on heart health and gout and things like that. Often people don't have awareness of what's available for them so it's also making sure they have access to all the services they're entitled to."

The work had been a privilege, she said, and she encouraged other Maori women in Marlborough to take up nursing.

The award would normally have been given out at the NZNO national awards in Wellington next week, but Mrs Oelrich is unable to go so her citation will be read instead.

She was grateful to be able to celebrate instead with family and friends at the marae, which was a special place for her, she said.

The Marlborough Express