Tonga's first ever PhD in Nursing graduates from Sydney

14 December 2012

Dr Amelia Latu Afuha'amango Tu'ipulotu (right) with Sela Paasi, Chief Nurse of Tonga.
Dr Amelia Latu Afuha'amango Tu'ipulotu (right) with Sela Paasi, Chief Nurse of Tonga.

Tonga's first ever Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing graduated today from the University of Sydney.

Dr Amelia Latu Afuha'amango Tu'ipulotu's graduation ceremony was attended by visiting dignitaries of the small Polynesian Kingdom of Tonga, including the Chief Nurse of Tonga Sela Paasi, also an alumna of the University of Sydney.

Amelia's candidature was undertaken at the University's Sydney Nursing School. Her doctoral thesis was titled Foundational Elements for Nursing Practice in Tonga: Fa'unga 'o e Ngaue 'a e Neesi Tonga'.

Her desire to undertake her PhD was ignited when she realised the nursing profession in her small Pacific island was dominated by expatriates who often had little or no knowledge of the country's cultural, economic and political system.

"I knew I needed to gain a better understanding of the reality of nursing practice in Tonga and study both the enablers and challenges within the Tongan nursing context," Dr Tu'ipulotu said.

"I first practiced nursing in Australia, and then in a Tongan hospital. I found that policies in the Tongan hospitals often did not fit the reality of nursing practice due to lack of basic resources. The policies we were using were more appropriate to nursing practise in a developed world context."

Earlier this year Dr Tu'ipulotu returned to her native Tonga and resumed her work within the island's Ministry of Health. Promoted to the position of Matron of the Nursing Department in Tonga, one of three top leadership positions under the Chief Nurse, Dr Tu'ipulotu is now realising her ambition. She is responsible for the majority of the country's nurses who work in four hospitals either on the main island Tongatapu, or the islands of Vava'u, Eua, Haapai and Niua.

She says improving the health of the Tongan people is her top priority and that of her country's government, and Tonga's nurses are at the frontier of strategies to improve the communities lifestyles choices and health care.

Professor Jill White, Dean of Sydney Nursing School and co-supervisor, agrees that Amelia's PhD has already made an impact in Tonga.

"Amelia's PhD is helping her to make necessary changes in clinical practice and policy. In the last two months she has already led a team to conduct the first clinical review in Tonga. That Amelia brought nurses from wards and clinical settings together for the first time to discuss procedures and policies is a testament to her leadership ability in Tonga," Professor White said.

Amelia's future plans include the development of a Clinical Policy and Procedure Manual for the Tongan nursing profession.

Coincidently, Dr Tu'ipulotu's great-grandfather, Afuha'amango composed a well known Tongan song ("Ta koe Sola ki Selusalema") to celebrate the graduation of Tonga's first recipient of a degree. His Majesty King Tupou IV (father of the current King of Tonga) completed his Bachelor of Law degree also at the University of Sydney.

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