Enhancing decades of clinical experience with a health degree

23 July 2021

Karen Turanga
Karen Turanga is studying a Bachelor of Health so she can work to address health inequities and improve access to care for the vulnerable people.

Karen Turanga (Ngāi Tahu) reckons she’s had what feels like a hundred lives. Her career includes more than a decade in the military, two decades in the oral health sector, and stints in education, business, health and safety and consulting, and now she’s adding a Bachelor of Health at the University of Waikato into the mix.

Karen has more than 30 years of clinical experience in the military and private practice as a dental hygienist, a clinical support lead and a compliance and governance specialist. She has now made the big decision to undertake tertiary study for the first time in her life, and she has some big reasons for doing it.

“I am proud to be studying a kaupapa-Māori focused degree in poutū-manahau (population health). My goal is to engage with communities and all levels of health governance to critique and design health initiatives, policies, interventions, and their outcomes.”

Karen is currently in her second year, and is the inaugural recipient of the Braemar Charitable Trust Bachelor of Health Scholarship, one of several health-focused scholarships the Trust established in 2021 to support students to help make a difference to community health.

Karen says she is grateful for the scholarship and sees it as support of her passion for reducing health inequities and improving access for care to vulnerable people in Aotearoa.

“In my clinical work I have seen first-hand the inequities certain groups – such as Māori and Pacific – experience in the primary health care setting. It’s everything from the way they are treated when they walk through the door, to the types of treatment they may be offered, or the general experience of a health system that isn’t culturally-responsive to their needs which can lead people to delay seeking help, leading to poorer health outcomes.

“I am extremely grateful to have the support of Braemar Charitable Trust as I do my very best to live up to the kaupapa.”

Journey to study

Karen’s journey to university study has been anything but typical. Originally from Ashburton, she joined the New Zealand army when she was 20 to, as she says, put her tomboy nature to practical use.

From 1984 to 1991 she was a dental assistant, hygienist and instructor in Burnham and Wigram, and also served in Singapore as a dental hygienist and as an instructor in Jakarta, training and developing courses for dental students.

In 2003 she joined private practice, working as a registered dental hygienist in practices in the Waikato and Manawatu regions, and is now a non-practicing registered member of the Dental Council of New Zealand and continues to consult to business on health and safety.

Braemar Charitable Trust manager Paula Baker says the Trust is pleased to see its first scholarship awarded to such a worthy candidate.

“It’s fantastic to see Karen’s passion for community health, and her commitment to address health inequities aligns so well with our kaupapa. On behalf of the Trust, our congratulations to Karen and we look forward to staying in touch with her and seeing her success in the future.”

In addition to the Bachelor of Health Scholarship, which also includes the opportunity for a work placement to further enhance the recipient’s learning and development, Braemar Charitable Trust also funds the Bachelor of Nursing Scholarship and a Master of Business Administration Scholarship for a candidate in health leadership, and two annual summer research scholarships.

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