Pat Bodger, Te Atiawa, Taranaki, Ngati Mutanga, Ngāruahine, Ngati Ruanui, has a straightforward approach to rural community nursing: you just get it done.
It’s a simple answer that comes from a lifetime of varied and skilled work, constant learning and deep community relationships in Taranaki; work that Pat was widely celebrated for when she retired in June 2021.
For the past 18 years Pat has been the Midlands Regional Health Network Charitable Trust (MRHNCT) District Nurse based in Mokau, serving people from the summit of Mt Messenger to the Awakino Tunnel and beyond.
There are no GP services in the area, making the role a crucial sole charge service, and something Pat says highlights the value and importance of nurse-led clinics across New Zealand.
“I really advocate for nurse-led clinics,” she says. “It’s an excellent model and good for nurse advancement, it needs to be encouraged, especially when finding staff for general practice in rural areas is getting harder.”
“I’ve loved every minute of this job in Mokau. I love the families and the work, even the driving. Every day is different and you never know what you’re going to get.”
From treating a dog bite, to doing Tamariki Ora checks, palliative care or helping a scraped up skateboarder, Pat has worked with people across their lifespan, embracing the relationships, learning and challenges that come with it.
Patient feedback reinforces how much Pat and the district nurse service means to people. “It has been fantastic having the nurse services available at Mokau, this has been a godsend at times,” says one patient.
Others agree: “Pat Bodger is very respected in our community and we appreciate the service she provides. Without Pat things would have been very hard.”
“Not only being an excellent nurse, she is very understanding and gives excellent advice when needed.”
Sarah Wood, Pinnacle MHN Taranaki regional services co-ordinator, says the breadth of relationships Pat has in the community, along with her skills and knowledge, has made it a privilege to work with her. “It’s impressive, the ways Pat’s patients identify with her and how she identifies with them. She has such a wealth of knowledge, and is leaving big shoes to fill.”
Pat’s 50+ year nursing career started with her training at Barrett Street Hospital in New Plymouth then took her to the operating theatres of Wellington, before moving on to a bureau nursing role in the Auckland area. This role sparked Pat’s passion for palliative care when she had a stint working at St Joseph’s Hospice, Mercy Hospital. Public health and general practice nursing roles in West Auckland followed.
In the late 1990’s, Pat got the call to come home to Taranaki, her hapū and whānau. The time was right and together with her sister, Christine, who is also a nurse, they established Piki Te Ora Nursing Services (lift up your health), a nurse-led community and kaupapa Māori service in the rohe.
Picking up contracts for Tamariki Ora, smoking cessation, asthma and cancer care, Pat and Christine delivered services right around Taranaki maunga, ranging from Mokau to Patea on marae and in mobile clinics. Eventually the service became affiliated with Tui Ora Ltd, a Maori provider delivering community-based health and social services in Taranaki.
With a wealth of skills and knowledge, extensive trusted referral networks and time working in the community, it was a natural step for Pat to apply for the MRHNCT Mokau community nurse position in 2003.
“With all my previous skills, the contract had everything in there that I could do, so I applied,” says Pat. “And here we are today.”
Originally based in a 1950’s cottage on the sea front in Mokau, she developed the 20-hour a week Mokau contract into a three-day service, bringing with her a drive for continuous learning and skill development to meet the needs of the community.
“Initially things took a wee while to get going, so I did some education during that time,” says Pat. It’s a modest claim. While setting up the service, she completed a post-graduate diploma in health sciences from Auckland University and continued seeking out education and learning for the duration of her career.
“Pat is a lifelong learner,” says Sarah. “She’ll do any education that will benefit patients.”
Pat agrees. “Wanting to learn is really important despite postgraduate study leading me to many sleepless nights!. You can’t do your job properly if you don’t upskill your knowledge and stay up to date with new methods.”
Engagement and connection with people is another common thread Pat has woven throughout her work. She is well known for spending time with people, getting to know families and becoming part of the community right around the maunga.
“The times I’ve been up there to help Pat out, you see people come in and she knows them all and they feel comfortable with her,” says Sarah.
“When the service moved from the cottage into rooms with St John, we needed a shelf put up. Pat just rang someone, and they came down to do it.”
Pat remembers many such stories. “I had a patient and they said, I know what would be good, let’s get something to raise your bed. Next thing I know I have two blocks under the bed. Then I needed a foot stool and next minute, there was one made of rimu.”
“The local gym was established a few years ago, when I started doing green prescriptions. Women in the community decided they need to have a gym, rallied around and got that set up. Now there’s a gym under the town hall.”
Relationships with schools have also been essential. Pat is always just a phone call away.
Pat’s connection to whānau and the wider community is strengthened by the work she has done outside of her nursing role. In 2020, she was listed as being a representative, trustee or member of thirteen different boards, trusts and community organisations, including chairperson of Manukohiri Hapū, and Te Atiawa representative on Te Whare Punanga Korero, Taranaki's regional Māori health governance body made up of members from each of Taranaki's eight iwi. Currently she is on the Taranaki District Health Board as Māori appointed representative. Pat is also a trustee on the board of Hospice Taranaki Incorporated Society.
With everything she does in work and the community, you might assume Pat would be ready for a rest.
You’d be wrong; she’s not going anywhere. Even as she discusses retirement, this powerhouse nurse and health advocate continues with her plans to contribute to Māori health in the Taranaki community she has served for so long.
“I can’t retire from any of that. You just do it. Where there’s a gap, you fill it.”
In parting, Pat says, “Thank you to the wonderful community of Mokau and North Taranaki for letting me be part of your lives, supporting you and serving you.”
“Ngā mihi nui!”