Q+A with Tago Mharapara

Dr Tago Mharapara joined AUT in 2018 as a Research Lecturer in the Business School’s Department of Management. Tago’s research focuses on the work and wellbeing of people in undervalued professions such as midwives and early childhood education (ECE) teachers. Tago is a member of the Care/Work Research Group at NZWRI and has received recognition for his research and teaching. He is also the lead investigator of a multidisciplinary research team that was awarded over $1.3 million by the Health Research Council to investigate sustainability in New Zealand midwifery. In early 2022, Tago won a Fulbright New Zealand Scholar Award to study applied health policy at Brown University in Rhode Island, USA. He also received the AUT Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence. We recently spoke to Tago about his career what he likes to do in his spare time:

1. What is the inspiration behind your career in academia?

Teaching was my first inspiration to join academia. For my undergraduate degree, I had the privilege of attending the College of St. Benedict & Saint John’s University in Minnesota, USA. My experience there was formative and life-changing. The faculty, professional staff, and everyday people I met during my undergraduate degree were nurturing and exercised great patience with me as I figured out my academic interests. For the research side of my academic life, I credit Associate Professor Jennifer Kisamore (Oklahoma University) and Professor Helena Cooper-Thomas (University of Auckland) for their mentorship. Both scholars gave me the room to pursue my interests while challenging and supporting me along the way. In summary, I am in academia because I have benefited from the largesse of numerous individuals.

2. Describe one of your ongoing research projects.

I am excited about our project on how community midwives and their whānau manage the disruptive nature of community-based midwifery work and its impact on the future of the workforce. Having laid the groundwork in terms of reviewing the existing literature and building relationships with key stakeholders, we are poised to conduct research that will have a policy-level impact. Our team comprises of highly experienced researchers, Māori and Pasifika scholars, and novice researchers who will be using some of the findings to develop their skill sets and acquire postgraduate qualifications.

3. What do you hope to achieve with this project?

The Health Research Council of New Zealand funded our project in late December 2021. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused some delays, but we will be starting our work in mid-March, and we are eager to get started. Our goal is to contribute to the sustainability of the midwifery profession, given the projected increase in demand for community-based midwives over the next decade. This is especially true for the comparatively small Māori and Pasifika midwifery workforce that is very much in demand, and at high risk of burnout.

4. What makes this research impactful?

Existing research demonstrates significantly better health outcomes for women, birthing people, and children receiving personalised care from community-based midwives, little is known about the impact of such an intensive-care model for the wellbeing of midwives and their own families. Uncertainty, disruption, and adaptation are common aspects of community-based midwifery work, and midwives often balance work requirements against personal and whānau needs. New Zealand’s midwifery workforce is under extreme pressure, and there is an urgent need to understand and improve how midwives are supported and encouraged to remain in midwifery. This project is relevant to the changing landscape of our national health service delivery to meet the needs of families at a local level, and so we expect the reforms will spotlight services like community-based midwifery.

5. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I am a husband and father of a 6-year-old and twins that are 4-years old. Spare time is hard to come by, but I try to keep a regular running schedule and do strength training two or three times a week. We recently enrolled our kids at Papakura Music School, so I also picked up the saxophone. I have a professionally trained jazz saxophonist neighbour, so we meet on Tuesday evenings and play while enjoying some delicious craft beer.

Tago Mharapara