Deborah Harris becomes our first nurse practitioner

  • Annette King

Today I have a small riddle for you that I do not think you will find particularly difficult to solve.

What sort of health professional will you find many of in the United States particularly, but also in Canada, Sweden, Australia and Britain, but you would not have found until this morning in New Zealand?

The answer, of course, is the nurse practitioner. The nurse practitioner has provided expert health care in all those countries I mentioned for a number of years, 36 in the United States, in fact.

Now after 100 years of nursing in New Zealand, this country is about to have its first nurse practitioner, and I am delighted to be part of the certificate ceremony this morning.

I won’t ask you to solve the riddle of the identity of our first nurse practitioner. She is Deborah Harris, a neonatal nurse practitioner from Waikato, and her name will henceforth enjoy a special place of honour in New Zealand nursing.

Deborah is the first of a new species of health professional who will make, I believe, a huge difference to the health sector as a whole, as well as give nursing in general a significant morale boost.

The new role will encourage good nurses to stay in nursing, so that patients and the health system can benefit from their years of experience and their skills.

The new position also provides nurses with a challenge. It gives nurses a level of expertise to aim at, a level where they are recognised as being at the top of their profession.
The role of nurse practitioner is not designed to replace the work of medical practitioners, of course.

I firmly believe, however, that nurse practitioners can complement the work of doctors, and they can bring a new aspect to health care because of their broad based, people-focused training.

In disadvantaged or isolated rural communities, for example, where it is often hard to attract doctors and other health professionals, nurse practitioners can ensure that good health care is still available.

That doesn’t mean nurse practitioners will only be working in primary health care. As our first nurse practitioner Deborah Harris, who works in the neonatal area, illustrates, nurse practitioners can work right across the health service.

Nurses have always been pioneers in New Zealand health care. It has taken longer than I would have liked to have our first nurse nurse practitioner, but it is at least fitting that it has happened in the year we celebrate 100 years of registered nursing in this country.

Deborah’s achievement represents a major step forward for nursing.
Nurses can make a real contribution to helping the country improve its health, and nurse practitioners, with the highest levels of clinical expertise and nursing academic qualifications, provide the ideal blend of practice and theory to lead the way.

I congratulate Deborah on her achievement, and for being the first nurse practitioner off the rank, and I congratulate nursing in general for accepting the challenge to play an even greater role in New Zealand health care.

This is the last formal occasion for me as Minister of Health in 2001. I couldn’t imagine a happier or more auspicious one.