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‘I knew I wanted to cook’

Hauora Tairawhiti's popular dietician Hiki Pihema speaks to the Herald's Wynsley Wrigley after her retirement.

A life-long love for healthy food and cooking has inspired the life and career of recently retired dietician Hiki Pihema.

A working life at Wellington, Dunedin and Waikato Hospitals, and since the mid-1980s, at Gisborne Hospital, has been about relationships and service, she said.

“You go into it to give service.

“Especially with food — that is how we look after people.

“The link is so strong.”

The thought that love of food could lead to a career occurred to Hiki, then a student at Queen Victoria School for Maori Girls, during a careers day visit at Auckland Hospital.

“As I walked into the kitchen, I knew I wanted to cook.”

But the careers day organiser knew the students had university aspirations.

The organisers “thankfully said ‘no, go to university and become a dietician'”.

Hiki said her love for food and cooking existed long before that day as a scholarship-winning student at the now defunct Parnell-based school.

She has loved cooking since her childhood days of cooking for her Tokomaru Bay whanau of parents, eight brothers and sisters and cousins.

“I was the oldest girl and helped Mum.”

Moving from the closeknit Tokomaru Bay community to school in the big smoke of Auckland at the tender age of 11 never gave her cause for trepidation.

“I loved it.

“I had my own clothes, three meals a day, I didn't have to share anything.”

She won a scholarship to study for a Diploma in Home Science at Otago University where the future Dr Paratene Ngata was another student.

Her training was completed by another year at Wellington Hospital.

Hiki said it was while seeking accommodation in Wellington that she first experienced racism.

She successfully took the landlord to the disputes tribunal.

“It must have affected me in some way.

“It made you more aware of what was around you.”

After working for about five years in both Dunedin and Hamilton, Hiki decide it was time to come home, and found herself in Tairawhiti's nearly brand-new Gisborne Hospital.

There have been sigificant changes over a lifetime in her profession.

At Waikato Hospital she worked in food service management, administering a food service and feeding both patients and staff.

But Hiki wanted to get into the therapeutic side — looking after people with illnesses and disease.

It's a clinical, complex and specialised role, she said.

“You had to to know a lot about everything, without being an expert in one thing.”

But now you are required to be an expert in everything.

“That's the future for anyone who wants to work as a dietician.”

That was even more the case at regional hospitals like Gisborne with patients returning from tertiary hospitals such as Waikato Hospital and Starship.

“We are expected to provide a similarly high level of dietary treatment.”

Standards, training and qualification requirements are much higher today.

A Master's degree is required.

The dietitian manual has increased in size from 12 pages in 1986 to to over 500 today.

Continuing education is a must.

Every dietitian must have an annual practicising certificate (APC) to prove their continuing competence

“It's a good learning attitude to have and it fits in with my love of learning.”

Hiki cannot believe she is retiring.

The time has gone so fast and partly explains why she found last week's official farewell at Gisborne Hospital so emotional.

But she never considered continuing to work.

“I could see Covid coming.”

The Ministry of Health will keep plans up-to-date and make constant changes.

“I'm out of here.”

Hiki will remain in part time work.

She starts in the new year working with Interprofessional Education (IPE) through Otago University by supporting the further education of a wide range of health professionals by introducing them to the nature of rural health and Maori health.

Hiki will also advise Fire and Emergency New Zealand and help them to integrate into the local community .

Her husband was a firefighter for 35 years so “they are like family”.

Retirement will also provide more time for running, walking, gardening, seeing her mokopuna and her partner John at their Mangahauini home, just north of Tolaga Bay.

John has been retired for five years.

“We're looking forward to spending more time together.”

Hiki is serving her second term as a board member of Hauora Tairawhiti.

She said some work colleagues had difficulty differentiating between her roles as a board member, and a staff member.

“When I'm at the board table, I'm a board member, when I'm at work, I'm a staff member.”

She will continue to serve until June when Health New Zealand takes over the functions of the country's 20 health boards.

The board, using their local knowledge, can direct services or greater resources to where they are most needed.

But Hiki says any changes the board may effect remain within the framework set by the Government.

She expresses exasperation at the decision of the last National Government to dismantle the previous government's Healthy Eating, Healthy Action programme in schools.

“It was gone at the stroke of a pen! Gone.

“There was no (mandatory) healthy food in schools.”

The life-long love for healthy foods remains in retirement.

FAMILY AFFAIR: Hiki Pihema (centre) was joined by her whanau after her retirement function at Gisborne Hospital. Back, from left, Sharon Pihema, Taneora Pihema and Jamie Hutana. Middle, from left, Tomai Pihema-Brown, Doris Aspinall, Jemma Lawton, Kahuira Pihema-Brown and Lois McCarthy Robinson and (front) Te Kohatu Pihema-Brown. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell
EARLY DAYS. Hiki Pihema is pictured at Hatearangi Primary School, Tokomaru bay, in 1988 speAKing to students about heALTHY snacks. Picture supplied
Hiki Pihema