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Leah Dixon (Ngāti Raukawa) - Nursing (2004)


posted by Alastair McLean on 4 April 2012

Leah Dixon has more than 1500 kids to look after, but only seven of them are her own.

Working as a school nurse at Auckland’s James Cook High School gives Leah – the first nursing student to be awarded a John McLeod Scholarship – an enormous amount of satisfaction.

‘I love it there. You see all walks of life. Some kids struggle with day-to-day challenges and you do end up being like a mum to them. But I am working alongside our young people who will eventually become our future role models and leaders.’

Education is important to Leah. She sees herself as a good role model, because without it, she wouldn’t be where she is today. 

Leah was 26 when she was motivated by her children to return to study.

‘One day my kids asked me to help with their homework. But I couldn’t because I didn’t understand it. I felt stupid, and thought ‘what kind of mum am I if I can’t help my kids with their homework?’ My babies pushed me to go back to study.’

After completing a bridging course at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT), Leah decided she wanted to train as a nurse.

‘I believed by becoming a nurse, I’d also become an educator. And if I could make even a slight difference to how Māori perceive their present health status, then that was a start.’

So she completed the Foundation Education Programme, and launched into a Bachelor of Health Science in Nursing at MIT.

Leah was in her second year of nursing when she applied for a Hauora Māori Scholarship.

She cried when she read the letter telling her she had won the John McLeod Scholarship.

‘Before studying, I felt like an underachiever. So when I got this award, it made me feel like I could do anything,’ she said.

‘Everyone has the potential to achieve their goals, but they may not see it at first. It wasn’t until I won the award that I realised this.’

Needless to say, her family were incredibly proud of her achievement. But Leah said the award acknowledges their support and hard work, too.

‘They put up with a lot. But having them there – my husband and children – was so important to me. My Nanny and kaitiaki were always there for me too, when times got tough.’

She is also grateful to tutors and lecturers Helen Scott, Angela Milsteed and Willem Fourie, who she said recognised her potential before she did, and who guided and supported her throughout her studies.

After graduating, Leah worked as a Plunket nurse for two years before going on maternity leave. On her return to work, she applied for a job as a school nurse at James Cook High School, and has been there now for more than three years, working as part of a multi-disciplinary team.

This work allows her to support young people at a time in their lives that can often be challenging and confusing, especially when living in an area of high economic deprivation.

Leah completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Primary Health Care (Speciality Nursing) in 2007, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Health Sciences in 2011.

She sees a future full of opportunities.

‘I would like to move into mental health because everyone experiences it, but not everybody wants to acknowledge it,’ she said.  Leah goes on to mention that like the wind, her choice may change, as she also finds adolescent health fascinating, and fulfilling.

‘I’d like to do my Masters as well. Colleagues and other health professionals are encouraging me to become a Nurse Practitioner too, so I’m thinking about that.

‘For me, it’s about helping people. My study has given me the confidence, skills and knowledge to do the best I can. People tell me to go to Australia for the money. But to me it’s not just about that – although of course, money does help.  I want to make a difference.’