by Kim Laubscher
Nurses are born not made, says Nikki Close.
She always knew she wanted to be a nurse and enrolled at Wintec (then Waikato Polytechnic) when she was 16.
Now CEO of Te Aroha Community Hospital (and a volunteer fire-fighter) she likes to keep close ties with Wintec.
“At this hospital we take a lot of people that are going through their training. It’s nice to feel like I’m reciprocating and helping feed back in to the system.”
There were few jobs for registered nurses in New Zealand in 1989 when Nikki graduated.
She moved to Australia for three months and worked in an intensive care unit which she says was a "baptism by fire".
She spent the three months sitting in the library after work. "Just working out what the hang I had done that day. It was quite terrifying."
After returning to New Zealand she met her now ex-husband Scott, a hotel manager and they moved to Hawera where they bought their own hotel.
Nikki spent her mornings working in the hotel pub and offices and her afternoons working at Hawera hospital.
Her daughters, Renee and Cate, were both born at the hotel.
Nikki says she was never happy just being a staff nurse and was always looking for ways she could do more.
In 2000 she took over the management of an aged care facility in Hawera.
She thought the place needed a huge culture change so she offered all the staff voluntary redundancy within six weeks of becoming manager.
The potential for backlash from the small Hawera community was huge but luckily Nikki filled the positions.
It was a case of "ignorance is bliss," she says.
With no management experience she powered ahead and did what she wanted to do.
"The whole reason I went in to aged care is because I knew my parents would be there one day and I wanted it to be okay. I wanted to see if I could make a difference."
After seven years in Taranaki, Nikki moved to Auckland and took on a variety management roles. When her daughters complained about her long work hours she decided she needed a lifestyle change.
She left Auckland to become the CEO of Te Aroha Community Hospital in 2010.
At the time, Te Aroha hospital was losing $500,000 a year and only had enough money to last six months.
They reviewed their staffing and supply systems and by the end of the year had broken even.
Nikki says the most rewarding part of nursing is seeing a critically ill patient survive.
As part of her “mid life crisis” Nikki joined the volunteer fire brigade in Te Aroha.
On one call out she helped rescue a man stuck under a log.
She cared for him while the other fire-fighters got the log off the man. He recently got out of the spinal care unit and came to visit Nikki.
"That’s what makes it all worthwhile."