Tāmaki Innovation Campus


Sonia Hawkins
PhD candidate Sonia Hawkins

“Is there racial and ethnical bias amongst nurses?”, asks PhD candidate Sonia Hawkins.

A $128,899 scholarship from the Health Research Council will enable Sonia, who affiliates to Te Arawa and Tainui, to understand and find ways to address and reduce issues.

Sonia has a lifelong commitment in this topic, commenting that Māori health research suggests whilst Treaty of Waitangi principles and culturally safe practice are basic competency requirements required of every practicing nurse, the desire or ability to make structural change towards health equity for Māori is lacking.

Her Master’s thesis suggested one reason for lack of Māori engagement with health services is because Māori worldview, values and beliefs are not perceived by Māori as being represented in the existing system. This informs part of her Doctoral topic, initially from the nursing perspective.

It also builds on the advisory work she has been doing with Rotorua’s Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology’s Strategic Partnerships and Māori Success directorate, where she developed a new Treaty-based approach and the inaugural Equity report.

 “My PhD research relates to the findings from my masters’ research that centered on the dual narratives of power and privilege. Those nurse participants held strong views on the theme of power and privilege; and the four subthemes of privilege discourse, bias and stereotypes, cultural safety and racism.

“My thesis findings in turn became a call to action for further research, and became my inspiration for further study as a PhD thesis, to build on another HRC funded study that examined ethnic and racial bias decision-making among medical students. Māori are disproportionately disadvantaged in making up only 7% of the 52,711 strong nursing workforce,” she says.

Working with, and for Māori, was the impetus behind her initial nursing career in 1997, followed by a Masters Health Science First Class Honours, Kaupapa Māori Qualitative Thesis Study: Senior Nurses Understanding of Health Equity at the University of Auckland in 2017. The kaupapa of the research is what ignites and sustains her passion rather than undertaking PhD level study.

Sonia acknowledges Māori nurse leaders that have been at the forefront of unprecedented change to the nursing profession: the courageous student nurse who challenged culturally unsafe care in the late 1980s, and the late Irihapeti Ramsden who pioneered kawa whakaruruhau/cultural safety. She says there is a deep and relentless dedication that past and present Māori nurse leaders demonstrate. “Many were alongside Irihapeti in the early days of kawa whakaruruhau /cultural safety and remain steadfast to the kaupapa of addressing health inequities today.”    

Her PhD supervisors are Dr Donna Cormack, Dr Rhys Jones and Dr Ricci Harris, all of whom have a strong interest in Māori and racial bias as a determinant of health and the health profession. Sonia Hawkins is a registered nurse, part time project manager for Kurawaka intensive leadership program for Māori nurses and midwives, and a health service auditor.