Massey doctorate in nursing awarded to  one of Tonga’s first male nurses

Dr Sione Lavenita Vaka has become the first Tongan male nurse to acquire a doctorate in nursing.

He was awarded his PhD from Massey University.

Dr Vaka said the sacrifices he made to complete his doctorate had paid off because he achieved his goal.

He was one of Tonga’s first male nursing recruits in 1993 when the Ministry of Health opened the profession to men.

He said he and a friend at Tonga High school decided to become nurses because they thought it might be a good way to meet girls.

In the beginning it was just for fun because in Tonga nursing was regarded as women’s work and male nurses were ridiculed.

However, he soon discovered he had a talent for nursing and was awarded a full scholarship to study in New Zealand.

He obtained a Bachelor of Health Science in Nursing and a Master of Nursing from Auckland University. He also has a Postgraduate Diploma of Teaching from AUT.

Challenges

Dr Vaka said one of the most challenging things he came across while doing his doctorate was that nobody had done similar work so there was no example of research or writing for him to follow.

His field was psychology and psychiatry.

Having English as a second language meant he faced many challenges in writing up his thesis.

He said he did his research in Tongan and translated his work into English.

The problem was that when Tongan was translated into English the meaning and the context of the words were not fully maintained.

“It was long and difficult work, but I did it,” he said.

Dr Vaka said he managed to persuade the University to accept some Tongan ways of doing things that he thought would work for his research.

One of these was the Tongan way of talanoa (talking or dialogue).

Talanoa replaced the western way of using interviews and questionnaires in research.

“In talanoa there is a chance to talk [with the interviewees] about different areas and not just focus on what the interviewer or questionnaires want,” he said.

Speaking in Tongan, Dr Vaka said: “After gathering all the information I would pick only the most important things and reconstruct them to fit what the university required.”

“It was a long process, but it enabled me to engage effectively with our Tongan people and get to the core of the issue. Sometimes, our people are put off by interviews and questionnaires.”

Commitment

Dr Vaka had to balance work on his doctorate against his commitment to his family, his church and community.

However, he also plays the acoustic guitar and music always became a temptation during the week when he was required to do assignments and study.

He sings Tongan hiva kakala and plays with his group during kava sessions.

“I stood by my philosophy in times like this and used my hobbies such as kava drinking and music to reward my study during the week,” Dr Vaka said.

“I strictly dedicated my time during the week to my study and determined that if I achieved my weekly plan, say, to finish reading certain chapters of a book before the weekend, I would spend Saturday drinking kava and playing music and would return home almost at daylight.”

Dr Vaka said he wanted to encourage anybody who wanted to follow his footsteps.

He said he believed one of the best way to become successful in study was to have everything as simple as it could be and not pretend to be someone else.

He said the English language he used for his thesis was simple to understand. He did not believe in using technical words and terms to impress examiners or lecturers.

“I did almost everything in my own way,” Dr Vaka said.

“I did not want to imitate our Tongan scholars in the way they write things and express their thinking.”

He said he used the Tongan way of thinking and practices in his research and arguments and only used western theories and practices to back up his reasoning.

Dr Vaka said his thesis was returned twice by his supervisors for changes, but he had heard some theses were sent back for corrections up to nine times.

Study meant the scholar would have to go through many challenges, but that would be for a short time and the rest of his life was to share the joy his success in education has provided him, he said.

Background

Dr Sione Lavenita Vaka studied at Longolongo Government Primary School and continued his secondary school at Tonga High School.

He completed Form Six in 1991, Tonga National Form Seven in 1992 and was recruited as Tonga’s first male nurse in 1993.

Dr Vaka’s father was Malakai Vaka from Neiafu, Vai-ko-Lelea, Vava‘u Lahi, and  Lōfanga, Tokomea, Ha‘apai Veu.

His mother is ‘Asilika Fifita Vaivai Tātuila Vaka from Lapaha, Kolokakala, Mu‘a, Tongatapu.  His wife is Olaka‘aina Tupouniua-Vaka from Vava‘u Lahi and Sia-ko-Veiongo from Nuku‘alofa, Tongatapu.

They have a son Ma‘afu Tu‘i Lau Vaka.

The main points

  • Dr Sione Vaka has become the first Tongan male nurse to acquire a doctorate in nursing from Massey University.
  • He was one of Tonga’s first male nursing recruits in 1993 when the Ministry of Health opened the profession to men.
  • Dr Vaka said he used the Tongan way of thinking and practices in his research and arguments and only used western theories and practices to back up his reasoning.
  • He said he wanted to encourage anybody who wanted to follow his footsteps.

For more information

Nurse, Pacific style (Central Leader)

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