Understanding racial and ethnic bias in the nursing profession and then working out a way to reduce it are the objectives behind Sonia Hawkins' doctoral research.

The Rotorua woman's PhD research application was signed off earlier this month.

Hawkins is one of four people to be awarded a Health Research Council (HRC) scholarship valued at more than $128,000 to complete her doctorate.

Hawkins, who affiliates to Te Arawa and Tainui, worked in Toi Ohomai's Strategic Partnerships and Māori Success directorate as an adviser where she developed a new Treaty-based approach and the inaugural equity report.

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She said her doctoral research would help build on her master's thesis and the work she had done with Toi Ohomai.

"My PhD research relates to the findings from my master's research that centred on narratives of power and privilege.

"The nurse participants expressed strong views related to the dominant theme of power and privilege and four sub themes of privilege discourse, bias and stereotypes, cultural safety and racism," she said.

"My thesis findings were a call to action to undertake further research and to build on another HRC-funded study that examined ethnic and racial bias decision-making among medical students."

Hawkins said there were 57,000 nurses in New Zealand, but Māori made up only 7 per cent of the workforce.

"New graduate nurses that whakapapa to a rohe, are confident in te ao Māori, and are NCNZ qualified are critical to developing the nursing workforce. However, the system doesn't always recognise or value the dual attributes Māori nurses bring.

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"The disproportionate over-representation of non-Māori would suggest one of the contributing factors is the recruitment system and process, which privileges a non-Māori western worldview instead.

"Our Māori health research tells us since the Treaty of Waitangi institutions' structure disadvantage and marginalise Māori."

Her research will also explore why Māori don't engage with health services.

Hawkins said one of the reasons Māori did not engage with health services was because Māori did not see themselves, their values or beliefs represented in it and she looked forward to exploring this further.

Hawkins said she always wanted to be a nurse because she wanted to work with and for Māori.

She graduated from Waiariki Institute of Technology with a Bachelor of Nursing in 1997 and completed her Master of Health Science in 2017 at the University of Auckland.