Born into a conservative Muslim family in Fiji, Mehanaz Begum Khan grew up with very little. Married after finishing high school, three children soon followed, but Mehanaz always knew she wanted more for her future and her family.
“There weren’t many opportunities in Fiji. I wanted more options and choice for our family,” Begum Khan explains.
In search of new opportunities, Mehanaz applied for a visitor’s visa to New Zealand, and in 2007 Begum Khan moved her family to New Zealand.
Initially living with her husband’s family in Auckland was tough, four extra people in a small house proved challenging. They soon joined a local mosque and found a community that supported Mehanaz’s husband to find work in Hawke’s Bay with a visa, which provided some certainty for their family.
Once settled in Wairoa, Mehanaz applied for several jobs, but believed she faced discrimination along the way. “I remember applying for a role in a supermarket, they wouldn’t employ me if I wore my hijab (head scarf),” says Begum Khan. “It was one of many experiences of racism I encountered in those first few years in New Zealand.”
Mehanaz had always wanted to be in the medical field, but without qualifications and needing to provide an income for her family, she started a casual position at Bupa Gladys Mary Care Home in the laundry team and cleaning, later becoming a caregiver.
“I was welcomed into the team. Happy to have a job, working with good, caring people. I believed there was a future for me here”Begum Khan
It was her desire to gain further education, combined with an inherent sense of empathy and care that drove her to take the leap to study to become a registered nurse. Bupa’s Dementia Care Advisor Beth McDougall inspired Mehanaz to take the leap, providing information on where to start.
“It was obvious to me that Mehanaz showed all the qualities that a nurse needed – compassion, kindness, and empathy. She stood head and shoulders above others, I could see her potential, and the residents loved her. With encouragement and belief in her, I was able to guide her through the process to apply for nursing,” says McDougall.
However, Mehanaz also faced challenges closer to home. Her immediate family did not understand her ambition to study or work. Begum Khan explains, “They believed my role was more traditional, to stay home and look after the family, that a married woman and a mother doing further studies was shameful and degrading. I wasn’t having it. I could do both as many women and mothers already do.
“It was hard for my family to support my studies, and then my career in nursing. But I have always wanted to be a nurse, even back in Fiji.”
“As an international student my journey – metaphorically and physically – to study was a bumpy ride. I travelled from Wairoa to Gisborne five days a week to attend classes while I continued to work at Bupa as a part-time caregiver. Then, I went on to do my practical studies at Hastings Hospital.
“It was busy, and it was tough, but I knew it was best for me, and best for my family. I had to stay focused towards my goals and ignore all doubts and criticisms.”
Mehanaz graduated from the Eastern Institute of Technology in 2015 as a registered nurse. “I was so proud of what I had achieved after all the hardships and difficulties I had to face.”
Given the support and encouragement to complete her studies Mehanaz received while at Bupa, she wanted to stay within the network, and although there were limited positions available in Hawke’s Bay, she was internally headhunted to Bupa’s St Andrew’s Care Home in Hamilton.
“I moved my children to Hamilton to work as a Registered Nurse at the newly built Bupa St Andrews Care Home. I thrived in my role, progressing to acting Clinical Manager and now a regional relief Clinical Manager.
“I have helped refine clinical practices, introduced new methods of clinical assessments, and created new handover processes to streamline workflow,” Khan says.
But the career move wasn’t without its sacrifices. “At this point I became a single mother, I couldn’t continue with the negative mindsets of others impacting my life.
“My parents who were initially opposed to me studying, are now my biggest advocates supporting my choice to study and follow my dreams. They understand what this job means to me and the importance of caring for our elderly,” says Mehanaz.
Mehanaz is now based at Bupa Rossendale Care Home, which specialises in Psychogeriatric, rest home and hospital care. During her time there, she has brought about significant changes to systems and processes whilst covering maternity leave for a colleague.
Barbara Garbutt, Bupa Regional Operations Manager, says Mehanaz’s dedication to her teams and residents is driven by an ethos focused on quality improvement.
“Mehanaz has the most generous spirit. Her drive for improvement paired with a measure of empathy in supporting her teams and residents means she creates the best outcomes for all,” says Garbutt.
Mehanaz has advice for women considering nursing as a career, or looking to further their education, “I would encourage anyone who may be lacking in confidence, or in a situation where they feel they couldn’t or shouldn’t feel ambitious, to pursue their happiness and goals. It is your right to study, your right to work, and your right to want to contribute to your family to build a better future. What I wanted for my life I made happen, despite the obstacles in my way.
She continues, “If you have an interest in study or work, reach out to someone, you never know who might inspire you to take the plunge. My philosophy now is whatever I learn, I don’t keep to myself. I pass it on.”