Dr Sandra Thaggard didn’t think about obtaining an education until the age of 28. She grew up in Fiji, and instead of attending high school, spent her days riding horses, going out on the reef with the village women and reading.
She came to New Zealand when she was 17 to complete her high school qualifications, yet she found herself working and enjoying earning money in various jobs around Auckland.
Sandra began her tertiary education at National Women’s Hospital beginning with a Diploma in Enrolled Nursing. She bluffed her way through the interview process as she didn’t have the required secondary school experience, but she says she was determined.
She came back to complete a Comprehensive Nursing Diploma at the then ATI (Auckland Technical Institute) and went on to complete a Bachelor of Nursing, graduating in 1994.
After working in various nursing positions including the Naval Base Hospital, the Infectious Diseases ward at Auckland Hospital, and as a Clinical Consultant for Pacific Island Mental Health Services, Sandra came back to AUT, but this time to teach.
“I came to AUT in 1997 as a support lecturer for Pacific students enrolled in the Nursing degree.
“It helped because I knew what it was like to be in their situation, being a Pacific student studying at AUT. It was so satisfying to see them pass! I was in that role until 2004, and in all that time, I didn’t have one student who failed.”
Sandra then began thinking about advancing her career and completed her Master of Health Science in 2004 with 1st Class Honours, looking at managing diabetes in part-Europeans from Fiji.
Sandra researched aspects of race, colour, caste and class hierarchies that exist in Fiji which she found interesting as someone with Fijian and Danish heritage, or a ‘Kailoma.’
“Part of my study was tracing the origins of part-Europeans in Fiji and what role they played in society. I looked at the different names part-Europeans are called and the different language they have – patois – which is a smattering of English, Indian and Fijian. It was very interesting.”
Sandra then moved on to complete her Doctor of Philosophy in 2016, where she looked at women’s stories and experiences dealing with life after intimate partner violence.
“I want to be able to make a difference in the many areas that need it in Pacific health. There are many stigmas involved when it comes to this topic, and I want to create not only a sense of empowerment, but change stereotypes completely.”