Dianne, one of our friendly team members answering the phones at Nurse & Midwife Support (NM Support), is a nurse with 45 years’ experience. For International Nurses Day, she has shared her experience of the wide range of roles that nurses work in and how they contribute to improving health across the board. Here is Dianne’s story.
Every nurse’s career is different, the range of opportunities and specialist areas make it much more diverse than most people know. In my time as a nurse, I’ve worked in general and psychiatric hospitals, community clinics, universities, an adolescent unit, prisons and a forensic hospital.
I moved from general nursing to complete a post-basic training in psychiatric nursing at Royal Park Hospital (one of the original asylums). This institution treated patients with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression. Many were involuntary patients; held against their will.
I have always felt deep compassion for people who have mental illness. Their lives are affected in complex and all-encompassing ways: personally, socially, financially, physically and mentally. My grandmother developed post-natal depression after the birth of her ninth child (my mother). She was certified and admitted to an asylum where she died a couple of years later.
Mental illness can knock on any door, at any time. There must be NO shame. Love and compassion need to be available for everyone who suffers.
Just like a physical illness, people do not expect, or desire, to develop a mental illness. The stigma around conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression is lessening but remains prevalent - even in a socially progressive society like Australia.
One of my most challenging roles was counselling prisoners who had been convicted and needed psychiatric help. Many people have asked how I could work with people I knew had done something illegal. My answer is that having empathy for victims and survivors, I hoped the therapy would be a catalyst for change.
I wanted perpetrators to be rehabilitated so that they didn’t do it again and so that they wouldn’t be a danger to the public if they were released. Everyone has a right to rehabilitation. Risk assessment is a vital skill when working with any violent or anomalous client. Community safety is, of course, paramount.
Another area where psychiatric nurses work is the forensic mental health system. I spent almost 15 years working in this field. Caring for patients who have committed serious crimes (including murder) is challenging.
Prisoners deemed not guilty on the grounds of mental impairment are transferred to a forensic hospital to receive treatment and eventual re-integration into the community, when the court decides that they are well and successfully rehabilitated.
The role of the nurse is to facilitate this lengthy process from the acute admission stage through to discharge and beyond. The role involves daily and ongoing care for their physical and mental wellbeing, including: hygiene and nutrition, physical and mental state assessments, medication, group and individual therapy, and support ‘pre and post’ extended leave into the community. Some patients remain unwell and require long-term care in a secure facility.
The majority will leave hospital and receive ongoing support and monitoring by the forensic team and the patient’s area mental health team. For a few years, my role was to visit ex-forensic patients (on my own) in their homes, as a way to support them while assessing their mental state.
This role would not suit everyone. This is the wonder of a career like nursing. Finding your passion within the health profession is invaluable.
Some nurses stay in their chosen field for the duration of their career, while others try a range of specialties and roles. It doesn’t matter. As long as the enthusiasm and job satisfaction remains, nursing is a rewarding career even though at times it may be challenging.
As an older adult, I have tried to maintain a healthy work/life balance. I’ve gradually become better at looking after myself and having compassion for myself. This skill was not easy to develop, but with practice, I’ve achieved a pleasing level of health and harmony. It is my strong belief that a nurse’s mental and physical health is vital not just for him/her, but also for the patients receiving their care.
I think that this is a really important program to help improve the health of nurses and midwives, which in turn will also improve the health of the public at large. Healthy nurses and midwives can give better care to their patients. My motivation to become part of this service goes all the way back to childhood where my aspirations to become a nurse started.
I began my nursing career in 1972 at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. In the days when training occurred in hospitals rather than universities, young people (like me) left school and moved into the nurse’s home attached to a general or psychiatric hospital. Each ward had a registered nurse, student nurses, and state enrolled nurses. During the night and late evening, second and third year nurses were regularly placed in charge of a ward.
I chose to train at the Children’s Hospital for personal reasons. When I was five, my six year old brother contracted leukaemia and died. In the 1950s, the treatment was experimental and unsuccessful. My brother died at home. My mother, also a nurse, cared for him.
From that early experience, I was keen to assist parents and siblings cope with the many challenges and emotions they would face when a child is seriously unwell or dying. I had no idea it would be so challenging.
In those days when distressing things happened, ¬¬nurses didn’t receive adequate support from the workplace (if any). They just kept going or left to pursue less stressful careers.
The distress faced by my nursing friends and I wasn’t discussed in the classroom or the ward. Nurses were a regular sounding board for each other. It was difficult to share experiences with family and friends who didn’t have experience in the health profession.
The NM Support position appealed to me immediately. After 45 years as a nurse, I want and hope to offer support, guidance, and health and wellbeing strategies to nurses who call: whatever their chosen workplace, age or experience. I care about nurses and understand the challenges they face every day. Nurses are not in the habit of asking for support, but they deserve it.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story. Please call if you ever need a hand. All the best, Dianne
It can be a pretty demanding job being a nurse and we want to support you; today on International Nurses Day and every other day of the year as well. Dianne and the rest of the team are here if you need to chat. Call 1800 667 877 – remember your health matters!