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Sydney contributes to healthcare improvements in Tonga

12 December 2019
Graduation ceremony celebrates growing partnership ties with Tonga
The University of Sydney Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery has a strong relationship with the Kingdom of Tonga, providing educational pathways for nurses.
Head of School and Dean, Professor Donna Waters stands with Dr Amelia Tu’ipulotu and Lenity scholars Aspasia Vaka and Meleane Siale at Sydney's nursing graduation ceremony.

Head of School and Dean, Professor Donna Waters stands with Dr Amelia Tu’ipulotu and Lenity scholars Aspasia Vaka and Meleane Siale at Sydney's nursing graduation ceremony.

Sydney Nursing School recently celebrated the graduation of its first Lenity scholarship recipients. The funding, generously donated by Lenity Australia, is awarded to Tongan nurses to undertake specialist postgraduate study at Sydney.

Established in 2018, the donation will fund the tuition of six nurses, with the program’s first recipients, Aspasia Vaka and Meleane Siale, completing study in emergency nursing and advanced nursing practice.

The scholarships are the latest initiative facilitated by the University in collaboration with Lenity Australia, to contribute to the advancement of healthcare in Tonga.

A relationship between the University and the island nation was initially made more than ten years ago, when the former Chief Nursing Officer of Tonga completed postgraduate nursing study at the University of Sydney.

Since then, Sydney Nursing School has continued to engage with Tonga and its Ministry for Health through the South Pacific Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officers Alliance and at the South Pacific Nursing Forum.

In 2012 the relationship was further solidified when Dr Amelia Tu’ipulotu came to the University of Sydney to undertake a PhD. On completion, she became the first nurse in Tonga to gain a doctoral degree.

Amelia’s thesis informed the development of national standards for nursing practice – the Siate Folau. This became the basis for improving the quality and safety of nursing practice in Tonga.

Commencing her career as a junior nurse at Sydney Adventist Hospital, Dr Tu’ipulotu has since held a variety of roles in teaching and practice in Tonga.

In 2014 she became the Chief Nursing Officer in the Ministry of Health and was more recently appointed as the Tongan Minister for Health.

Dr Tu’ipulotu played a significant role in the delivery of the Lenity scholarships, and was welcomed back to Sydney to attend the nursing graduation ceremony.  

While at the event, she was acknowledged as an Adjunct Associate Professor at Sydney.

In her new capacity as Minister for Health, Dr Tu’ipulotu hopes to address some of the challenges facing the Tongan healthcare system including culture, education, legislation and governance.

Some of these issues can be addressed collaboratively with the assistance of the University.

“Further change needs to be made to ensure that culturally we start to place a higher value on safety and quality,” says Dr Tu’ipulotu

“We also need to improve our education system, providing better opportunities for healthcare staff to complete continuing professional development.”

The Lenity scholarships were a small step in the right direction.  

“Initiatives like the Lenity Program are significantly important to help to ensure healthcare in Tonga and the Pacific meets international standards of care”.

Over the years, the University has also provided academic guidance in the development and accreditation of a world-first education program in Tonga.

The Advanced Nursing Diploma program seeks to combat non-communicable diseases – a major concern in Tonga, by training nurses to work in community health centres.   

Likewise, University staff members have played a consultative role in upgrading the Nursing and Midwifery curriculums in Tonga and have also reviewed the Tongan Nurses Act 2001 to incorporate national standards for practice.

The review focussed on the governance of the Tongan Nurses, Nurse Practitioners and Midwives Board as well as processes for accreditation, and quality and safety monitoring.

And it's not just staff that have been involved in the partnership. Many Sydney nursing students also have the opportunity to work in community healthcare settings in Tonga through the New Colombo Plan Scholarship Program. 

The University continues to build strong ties with Tonga and hopes to continue elevating the quality of healthcare through relationships with Dr Tu’ipulotu and other members of the Tongan Ministry of Health in the future.

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