Graduate nurse heads back to where it all started

News News & events

10 Sep 2014

Twenty-two-years ago a tiny Caitlin Cowan was just starting out life at home after spending the first three months of it in Christchurch Women’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Today Caitlin begins a new chapter in her life – and incredibly it’s almost exactly back where she started.

Caitlin has gained a position as a graduate nurse in the Canterbury DHB’s Nursing Entry To Practice (NetP) programme working in NICU, after completing a Bachelor of Nursing at CPIT.

“It’s sort of surreal at the moment; going back as a Registered Nurse to where I started life,” Caitlin says.

“It’s an amazing feeling to think I will be the person who gives neonatal babies and their families the same wonderful care I received and to work alongside many of the nurses who cared for me.”

Caitlin was born at 26 weeks gestation, or 14 weeks premature on April 24, 1992 in Wellington Hospital’s neonatal unit, weighing about 1100 grams. She is what some would say ‘a miracle baby’.

Her mother had been transferred to Wellington for an emergency caesarean section because there was no room in Christchurch’s NICU at the time.

“When I was born I wasn’t breathing and did not have a satisfactory heartbeat for the first eight minutes of my life – I should have had a lot of permanent health issues from that – so it is really quite amazing I haven’t,” Caitlin says.

After a month in Wellington Caitlin was transferred to Christchurch’s NICU, where she stayed for another three months until she was strong enough to go home on oxygen support.

Caitlin says she’s always felt a calling to work as a nurse in the place where she spent the first few months of her life and feels extremely lucky to have got a place on the NetP programme in NICU.

“I’m really excited to go back. To get a place in NICU, finally, is amazing. It was my goal all the way through; I’ve made it to where I always wanted to be.”

Caitlin says NetP is a fantastic option for graduate nurses.


Neonatal nurses Judy Weir, Carole Spencer and Jilly Fiso with graduate nurse Caitlin Cowan who begins work in the NICU this month as part of the Canterbury DHB's Nursing Entry to Practice (NETP) programme.

“NetP provides us with additional support and guidance throughout our first year of practice as newly qualified registered nurses, rather than being thrown in the deep end straight away.”

Caitlin is looking forward to developing her skills and also hopes many of the families she meets in NICU will gain a sense of hope when they hear her story. 

Mary Gordon, Canterbury and West Coast DHBs’ Executive Director of Nursing, says it’s wonderful to have the likes of Caitlin and other young nurses wanting to practice in Canterbury.

Mary says Canterbury DHB and CPIT are committed to investing in our regions’ nursing workforce.

“Each year we are always impressed with the calibre of graduates both locally and nationally. Canterbury District Health Board has been steadily increasing its new graduate nursing numbers in preparation for the new facilities at both Burwood and Christchurch Hospitals,” she says.

“One of the greatest things about having an undergraduate provider in our city is that they are already working within our health system on placement, and our clinical staff get to know them really well. Staff often refer to them as ‘our students’ rather than ‘CPIT’s students’.”

Mary says there are many opportunities for the future nursing workforce with plans for the Health Precinct progressing and potential for tertiary, research and health innovation business being based close to Christchurch Hospital.

“We will continue to shape and develop our students so that they are fully integrated into our health system.”

In addition to this, the Regional Directors of Nursing have had a long term strategy to increase graduate nursing numbers as 64 percent of the nursing population are aged over 45.

Dr Cathy Andrew, Head of Nursing and Human Services at CPIT, says it’s important the numbers continue to grow to replace the ageing workforce and to engage with expanded opportunities for nurses in the health sector.

“More than 85 percent of CPIT nursing graduates are employed as registered nurses within three months of completing their degrees,” Cathy says.

“We consistently have the highest number of graduates employed nationally. Most want to work in Canterbury due to the excellent clinical experiences and support they have as students in the wider Canterbury Health System.”

Historical number of graduates employed into NETP/NESP in the Canterbury Region:

Intake # Graduates employed
2014 - January

NETP - 69

NESP - 31

2013 - September

NETP - 66

NESP - 11

2013 - January

NETP - 73

NESP - 23

2012 - September

NETP - 65

NESP - 15

2012 - January

NETP - 54

NESP - 22

2011 - September

NETP - 48

NESP - 8

2011 - January

NETP - 57

NESP - 15

*These do not include the numbers hired into the private hospitals or some of the primary health facilities and ARCs so an even higher number of grads get hired in our region than shown above.

*NetP enables nursing graduates to begin their careers well-supported, safe, skilled and confident in their clinical practice, equipped for further learning and professional development, meeting the needs of health and disability support service users and employers.

*The Canterbury DHB NetP has 65 positions for the hospital graduates and partners on average, and regularly takes over these numbers. We will also take on up to 40 graduates for the New Entry to Specialty Practice (NESP) for Mental Health Nursing 2015 intake.