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Scholarships grow skills and size of Pasifika mental health and addiction workforce

The health workforce serving Pasifika people in New Zealand continues to grow in both size and skills with 49 Pacific students receiving scholarships to start or continue a career in the mental health and addiction workforce. 

The students received the scholarships from the Associate Minister of Health, Hon Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, at a small ceremony over the weekend (24 July).

The Pacific population has higher rates of mental illness, substance abuse and suicide attempts than the general New Zealand population, particularly among younger people. Despite this, research shows Pacific people are less likely to access support services than any other ethnic groups.  

The Ministry of Health-funded Mental Health and Addiction scholarships and support programme is managed annually by non-government organisation Le Va. Since being launched in 2009, 293 scholarships have been awarded.

Le Va chief executive Dr Monique Faleafa said a highly skilled and culturally competent workforce is essential for reducing ethnic disparities in access, quality and outcomes in healthcare.

“Our mental health and addiction services have indicated that some of their greatest challenges are recruitment, retention, the cost of up-skilling and, specifically, that cultural competency for working with Pasifika people is one of their top four training needs. This scholarship and support programme is a direct response to meeting these needs.”

And she said the scholarships are working, with application numbers increasing year on year, high pass and completion rates, and a visible growth in the Pasifika workforce. 

“Past recipients have told us the secret to their success is that it’s about more than just financial support. It’s having the right support where they need it – our coaching and mentoring programme acknowledges that sometimes pastoral, cultural, spiritual, and family support are just as important as financial support.” 

Recipients also reported the value in Le Va connecting them to larger Pasifika networks that they could engage with for information, best practice, support and career advancement and pathways. 

“Many past recipients have gone on to be part of Le Va’s Engaging Pasifika cultural competency training programme and our Le Tautua emerging leaders programme. Two key programmes that enhance the cultural responsiveness of health services for Pasifika families.”

Dr Faleafa said it was an honour to have the Minister support the 2015 scholarships.

Mr Lotu-Iiga said the scholarships play an important role in the Government’s intent to grow a workforce that is capable of delivering on health targets and is fit for purpose.  

“It is incredibly important that the cultural values, views and beliefs of Pacific people are well understood and taken into account by the workforce that delivers their mental health and addiction services,” Mr Lotu-Iiga said.

“In my view, this is a ‘win-win’ approach that is good for individuals and their Pacific communities too. I am honoured to acknowledge the achievements of those who have received scholarships and the efforts of their families for supporting them to pursue their dreams of an incredibly rewarding career that will give so much back to our Pacific peoples and our country.”

He added that the success of this scholarship programme was no doubt due to it being a Pacific-specific programme with the right supports in place for recipients to succeed.

The Minister awarded scholarships to 49 recipients from Auckland, Waikato, Hawke’s Bay, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. The students each received a share of the $226,500 scholarship fund towards the cost of their course fees. 

More than half of these students are studying at postgraduate level undertaking either a certificate, diploma, masters or doctorate. All are at varying stages of study, from first to final year, in a range of fields including nursing, clinical psychology, psychotherapy, social work, counselling, health business administration, addictions and health and human sciences. Three quarters of recipients are also currently working in the mental health and addictions sectors.

Hon Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga with Le Va’s Esther Faitala and Saveatama Eroni Clarke.

Le Va chief executive Dr Monique Faleafa, Hon Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga  and Wise Group joint chief executive Julie Nelson.

Scholarship recipient Dwaine Faletanoa’i spoke on behalf of all 2015 scholarship recipients.

Dr Monique Faleafa with Hon Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga.

Ministry of Health chief advisor Hilda Fa’asalele (far left, back and front rows), with the Minister and the 2015 Pacific Mental Health and Addiction Scholarship recipients.


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From time to time general news is published within Le Va

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