Swapping Auckland for Wairoa: Nurses couldn’t be happier

A gem of a community nestled in fantastic scenery awaits nurses who work in Wairoa.

“It probably sounds too good to be true; but it really is that good,” says nurse Kelli Wallace, who would not choose to nurse anywhere else. 

She and Wairoa Hospital nurses Sam McKeown and Lisa Zielstra are keen to see more nurses make the move to “this amazing little community”. The three are at completely different ages and stages of their careers, but they all agree that Wairoa is the place to be. 

Now the contracts manager for local Māori health and social service provider Kahungunu Executive, Kelli is keen to encourage nurses, both graduates and those with experience, to consider working and living in Wairoa. 

Primary health care has come a long way in the 17 years she has been nursing in the region. “Seventeen years ago there was just one registered nurse, and I made two. Now we have eight nurses, not all working full-time, and room for more. 

“We work across all areas, from health promotion and wellness support, to mother and baby care, dental health for preschool-age children, long-term health condition management, and mental health. Working in partnership with Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, GP practices and other health services, we really do have our people covered, from pre-birth to kaumatua.” 

Whether nurses are looking for placements that allow them an outdoor action-packed lifestyle, or access to good schools for their families; Wairoa has it covered, she says. 

“It’s such a beautiful place. With the Mahi Peninsula there’s always one beach that’s good for swimming, diving, fishing or kayaking and the other for surfing; we’ve got the river for whitebaiting, waka ama, wakeboarding and water skiing, and there’s plenty of camping and tramping in our hills and at Lake Waikaremoana. 

“We have a tight-knit welcoming little community with good preschools and schools and a thriving township with the best little café on the East Coast. We really are very lucky.” 

Just four months into her acute and emergency care nursing position at Wairoa Hospital, Sam McKeown is in love with her new community.

It could not be more different from where she grew up and trained in Auckland.  “I really do want to be here forever. The community aroha for the people is so genuine, it really is a loving, caring, welcoming community – way better than I could have hoped for.

“Our Hawke’s Bay District Health Board is all about ‘Health with Heart’; I don’t think you will find anywhere with more heart than Wairoa.” 

The same applies to her work colleagues. “My role is really interesting and I’ve received so much support. The nurses have so much experience and empathy, and they have a really broad range of skills that they are so keen to share. We are a real family.” 

She says the level of professional development available to her is excellent, both informally through her colleagues and at focused training sessions every Monday.

Sam is also making the most of her leisure time. Being in a rural area means she has found it easy to find a home for her horse, Molly, and when she is not riding, she is keen on long walks on the Mahia Peninsula. 

For Lisa Zielstra, coming from North Shore Hospital, nursing at Wairoa Hospital has been a real culture change “but in a very good way”. 

She likes being able to look after patients right through their health journey, compared to large hospitals where a change in condition typically means the patient is moved to another ward. 

Six weeks in, Lisa also loves her new nursing team. “They are super supportive, friendly and approachable, and it doesn’t matter how busy they are they always happy to answer your questions.” 

For her husband, Stephen Zeilstra, it is a return home; he is a third generation Wairoa-ite.  The couple and their 13-year-old son Jorden made the move for a better community-focused life. “We love the rural lifestyle and the amazing little community", says Lisa.

Their son has settled quickly settled into college and, also outdoorsy, is rapt to have motocross tracks on his doorstep. “And I can walk to work; the hospital is just three minutes’ walk from where I live. No more Auckland traffic.”

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