They might not wear capes, but to many of their patients they are the quiet healers and the unsung heroes.
To be a nurse means something different to everyone.
At its core, nursing involves administering health care, but to patients or people who work in the profession, it is so much more. For the teenage girl with cancer, her nurse is an artist and a “fairy” that watches over her. For the child who got her tonsils out, her nurse was a hero who would inspire her to one day pursue the same career.
For some, it’s a passion that runs in the family. For the team at the hospital, they are colleagues and leaders, who stick together to face challenges. They are front-line workers, managers and report writers. Above all, they often don’t seek recognition; a simple thank you is the greatest reward.
The little things
A young girl, just 16 years old, was petrified as she lay in hospital, preparing to undergo her first blood transfusion. The procedure was another frightening part of her battle with cancer. She was scared – not just because of her illness and the resulting treatment, but also because she hated the sight of blood.
Registered Nurse Alexandra Samson has faced her fair share of tough days, distressed patients and both good and bad outcomes during her six years of nursing.
But this 16-year-old girl, who she encountered in the cancer services unit during the first year of her career, is one of the patients she remembers most.
“I was about to give her very first blood transfusion. She was scared and crying because she didn’t like the sight of blood,” Alexandra says.
“With my artistic skills, I drew flowers and a stick-figure girl on a brown paper bag and used it to hide the blood product.
“I looked after her for days and she thanked me for making sure that she was okay while she received her blood products.
“She even started calling me her bloody fairy. I was struck with this because a small gesture and some reassurance can make such difference to patient’s stay in the hospital.”
Alexandra is now in her third year as an Emergency Nurse at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. She completed her Bachelor of Nursing at UOW in 2011 before entering the hospital’s graduate program.
She says nursing is a career that has already given her so much more than she could have imagined.
“My day-to-day work is unpredictable and that’s what makes it exciting,” she says. “We transfer patients to different sections in the ED – both adult and paediatrics – depending on the complexity of their health and give treatment as appropriate. It can be challenging at times. There will be moments where you are unable to stop the inevitable. However, being surrounded by a bunch of people who have been through similar experiences and who have a great sense of humour can get you through anything.”
After all her experiences with patients and their varying struggles and illnesses in different units at the hospital, working in emergency is a “completely different world” for Alexandra. But one thing that’s common throughout all the units is the satisfaction that comes after making someone who is sick smile, or better yet nursing people back to health.
A series of inspiring events
For as long as she can remember, Kay Maddison wanted to be a nurse. She has no family members in the health care sector and is unsure of exactly what led her down the path she has taken. What she does remember is a series of life events, where nurses displayed compassion and inspired her so much that she one day hoped to become one of them.
When she was five, Kay would go to the blood bank each month with her mother, Anne, where she would try to help out.
“The nurses looked after everyone donating blood and made sure they were ok. I think this is what I was drawn to – this is what inspired me,” Kay says. “They were respected and, above all, essential in the whole process. I was probably a pest to them as I would follow them around while mum was busy donating her pint, but the nurses were kind to me and showed compassion towards everyone and in everything they did.
“I wanted to be them, I wanted to look after people and take away their pain – nursing is so much more than that though.”
Then when she was six, Kay had her tonsils out. She still remembers how fascinated she was as she watched the nurses go about their jobs. This enchantment continued during her school days, until she undertook work experience at her local GP clinic, where she acquired her first real taste of the job.
From there she progressed to work in nursing homes and hospitals as she completed her undergraduate degree. She now works as a Clinical Nurse Consultant at a hand clinic and has done so for the past eight years, including while she studied her Master of Health Leadership and Management at UOW in 2015.
I wanted to look after people and take away their pain – nursing is so much more than that though.Kay Maddison
“You never know what kind of day you are going to have or what people you will meet,” she says. “The unexpected is both challenging and rewarding and essentially what working in a hospital entails.”
Now she starts work at 7am. She assesses referrals, prepares patients for triaging by the medical team and reviews the charts of in-patients. By 7.30am, she begins the multi-disciplinary team ward round.
“My role as the Clinical Nurse Consultant is to ensure the patient’s treatment and processes are maintained. I act as an advocate for the patient and their families, ensuring they receive all necessary information about their treatment and management plans,” she says.
“I review patients who have sustained significant hand traumas and discuss their management plans with them, as well as providing strategies for coping with the psychological effects they may be experiencing,” she says. “I assist with coordinating quality and safety projects in the hand service, reviewing what we do and how we can improve processes for consumers and employees.”
While there can be the challenges of fitting in meetings or writing evidence-based policies, the job is still highly satisfying. A simple “thank you” from a patient or their family is one of the biggest rewards Kay finds in her work, and so is helping other nurses to find their feet by providing clinical consultancy and education where needed.
“Witnessing the growth of knowledge and confidence amongst junior nurses is great,” she says. “Watching someone transition from novice to competent is extremely rewarding and helps build the nursing workforce for generations to come.”
It runs in the family
A typical day for a nurse is very busy – pleasing patients, time management, prioritising tasks. But working with a good team and helping to improve peoples’ lives makes it all worth it for Kama Stokes.
Kama started as a Registered Nurse working on the floor in the respiratory ward at the Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney, and has been a Nursing Unit Manager of the Respiratory and Infectious Disease Unit since 2010. But her passion for nursing originates back home in Ireland. Her great-aunt was a matron, her mum is a nurse and three of her aunts and a number of her cousins all work in health care.
“A lot of my family are nurses, so I had a lot of exposure to nursing as a child, and it’s also a great qualification that allows you to travel. I left Ireland in 2008,” she says. “No two days are the same and we have to be prepared for the events of the day to change in an instant. I’m responsible for my entire unit and I have to ensure the safety of the staff and the patients, while admitting and discharging patients and managing patients who are acutely unwell.”
Kama completed a Master in Health Leadership and Management at UOW in 2015, all while managing the 26-bed unit and 45 full-time equivalent staff.
It does not come without its challenges, but this is what keeps it interesting.Kama Stokes
Now she often covers her manager’s role of the Assistant Co-Director of Nursing. While she loves working on the front line, she says she discovered how fulfilling a management role could be when she first began covering as a Nursing Unit Manager.
“It was during this time that I could see how rewarding leading a team could be and how much a unit can achieve by working together,” she says. “I really enjoyed collaborating with staff and patients and building networks throughout the hospital and with staff from other hospitals.”
Her path hasn’t always been easy and it hasn’t always been what we would typically define as the role of a nurse. More than just caring for patients, she had to nurture her colleagues too. When she first arrived, the unit was short-staffed and morale had taken a hit. But Kama was patient and enthusiastic and she worked hard to reignite a love for nursing in some of the other workers.
Within a year, things changed and she had helped build a sustainable workforce – a true team that cared for each other and the place they worked. And though, like most nurses, she had never sought recognition, her work with her team and patients did not go unrecognised – she was awarded the Prince of Wales Nurse of the Year in 2013.
“It does not come without its challenges, but this is what keeps it interesting,” she says.