Mark Aitken: Hello! And welcome to the Nurse and Midwife Support podcast. Your health matters. I’m Mark Aitken, your podcast host for today. I’m the stakeholder engagement manager with Nurse and Midwife Support and I’m a registered nurse. Nurse and Midwife Support is the national support service for nurses, midwives and students. The service is anonymous, confidential and free. You can call us anytime about any issue you need support in relation to: 1800 667 877. Or contact us via the website at nmsupport.org.au
My guest today is Lisa Evans. Lisa is the Director of Nursing at St John of God hospital. Welcome, and hello Lisa!
Lisa Evans: Hello Mark, thanks for having me!
MA: Thanks Lisa, great to have you as our podcast guest for today. Lisa, please tell our listeners about your background and your role as director of nursing in supporting students and graduates.
LE: Well I’ve been a nurse for over 28 years now….
LE: …at the age of 16 I think I decided that I wanted to be a nurse, that made my life a whole lot easier because then I knew what I needed to study and what I needed to aim for. I think it’s really good if you know what you want to do when you’re 16/17/18. It was something that was very fortuitous for me, to find out that I really wanted to be a nurse. I then went on and was on the cusp of hospital-based nursing and university based nursing and I applied for every hospital-based program in the state that was still running. I got into none of them. I made it into the university course by one mark.
LE: I ended up in university and I think that it was a real blessing in disguise. I had a wonderful three years at what was then called Victoria College, which is now Deakin University. I was a part of the first group of nurses that was put through their bachelor program. I made some wonderful friends and I had some wonderful experiences. From about half way through my three years as a student being a registered nurse, I also obtained a qualification as an enrolled nurse. That meant that I was working on my weekends in that capacity as well as still being a student. From then, I have always worked in a nursing role. I’ve had a really varied background, spent some time in the public sector. I’ve spent some time in the private sector and I also went to the corporate sector at one point and ran the flu vaccination program and set that up over three states, which was really rewarding. I’m currently the director of nursing at St John of God’s Hospital in Berwick, we’re a not-for-profit organisation and a mission-based organisation. I’m very lucky to lead a team of over 750 nurses here at Berwick, providing care to thousands of patients every year and our hospital is now the size of about 200 beds. We provide a range of services and it’s a really really rewarding job.
MA: Thanks Lisa, and here we are today! Making this podcast, in your office, in this beautiful new hospital. I’ve had a tour and it is a beautiful hospital, it’s a credit to you and your team who have set it up. I can tell that the culture here is really positive and we’ll get to that shortly. Lisa, why do you think that Nurse and Midwife Support is an important service for students and graduates?
LE: I think that it’s an excellent service. I think it’s wonderful that they can actually reach out to something that’s anonymous, separate to home life and separate to work life. On the other end of the phone, there are experts and people with experience listening to them and providing them with really good advice, empathy, compassion and good advice about what their next steps should be. I think it’s fantastic that that’s available to them.
MA: Thanks Lisa, we’re really committed to ensuring that students and graduates get the support that they need (when and if they need it). If you’re a student or graduate, or a person supporting students or graduates, listening to this podcast as Lisa says, don’t hesitate to call us: 1800 667 877. We’re there whenever you need us, 24/7. Lisa, you and I know that being a student or graduate is a time of excitement, insecurity and it comes with certain challenges. What advice do you have for students and graduates, regarding how to navigate this range of emotions and the rollercoaster of experiences that they have?
LE: It’s a really good question Mark. You know, it feels like the other day that I was a student nurse, even more frequent was when I was a graduate nurse. I do remember the nervousness that you feel every day when you’re coming into work, and the nervousness the night before a new clinical placement or if you’re moving wards into an environment that you’re not as familiar with. I’ve grown over the years to understand that nervousness is not always a bad thing. It’s your body telling you something, it’s the parasympathetic nervous system getting ready to deal with what’s ahead of you. When your body is telling you something, you should tune in and ask yourself what is it telling me? Why?
LE: I talk to nurses all the time about this, if your gut says that something is not right, you need to act on it. It’s your brains job to then work out what that is, so you can put things in place. But nervousness is a part of it, it shouldn’t be overwhelming, and it’s ok to let people know how you’re feeling as well. Vulnerability is a really big thing, and letting people know that you’re nervous is showing some vulnerability, because you don’t know everything. Letting them know where you’re not coping, and how they can help you is a really key thing. People can’t read minds, so if something is out of scope or uncomfortable for you it’s really important to speak up and ask for help on those things. The biggest piece of advice that I give all of my nurses, and in particular the new graduates in my staff, is that you must maintain your balance of life. It’s really really easy to burn out in your graduate year. It’s the first time that you will work 48 weeks in a row in shift work; doing lates, doing earlies, rotating onto night duty, and you get tired. You get tired, you get emotional, and you make poor decisions when you’re like that. It is a really really important year to look after yourself. I advise them all that they need to eat well. They need to sleep well, and they need to not burn the candle at both ends in between when they’re working. But also, to enjoy this year! It’s the first year where you don’t have to study. You’re not juggling a part time job while you’re working, studying and doing clinical placement. So, some things in their life will get a whole lot easier. They’ll earn a good income in their first year! But they need to make the most of their downtime, and they need to be able to practice good techniques at home to make sure that they are rested when they come in to work. It’s really really important that when you’re a care giver, and all nurses are care givers, that they fill their cup and then they come to work ready and able to deliver care. So: good food, good sleep, and to look after themselves is the advice that I give them.
MA: Great advice Lisa, you’ve really reinforced what we say at Nurse and Midwife Support, which is to fill your own cup first. At Nurse and Midwife Support, as many of our regular listeners to this podcast will know, we have Nurse and Midwife Support mugs. Lisa and are I sitting here, in front of the microphone making this podcast, with our Nurse and Midwife Support mugs. So, we say: fill your own mug first, because as a nurse, midwife, student or graduate, when you get to have a drink you need a decent size mug. If you want to order our mugs you can do so online. Contact us via the website. So, great advice Lisa. We’re very committed at Nurse and Midwife Support to embedding the philosophy of self-care right at the beginning of people’s careers and their journeys into nursing and midwifery. If we can give you one take away from this podcast, as Lisa says, it’s to commit to your self-care and find that balance in your life. So, thanks, Lisa.
LE: I still have to reiterate that with senior managers.
MA: Oh, do you?
LE: You know, they have to listen and when they do take care of themselves their outcomes in the workplace are so much better.
MA: Yes, good advice. Lisa, thinking back to when you were a student or a graduate (which is many years ago, for you and I) what are some of your memories about the challenges that you experienced? And how did you overcome them?
LE: So when I was a student, we would do clinical placement in hospitals alongside hospital nursing students. There was a real animosity between the hospital-trained and the college/university trained nurses back then. We always felt, as university graduate students, that we had to work a whole lot harder to have a right to breathe the same oxygen in the air. It was only when we’d cleaned up the biggest mess that you could find, happily and with a smile on your face (and to somebody else’s standard) that you were then deemed worthy of doing something else, that was more clinically orientated. It was a culture of intimidation back then, absolutely. You had to be pretty strong to get through those things. I used to find, I’d come to a ward hand over (back in those days you never did a bedside handover, it was a full handover of all of the patients in the ward) and I used to set myself these little goals that by the end of that rotation, I was taking care of the two patients that were the sickest. The ones that at the beginning of the rotation I couldn’t imagine myself looking after, I wanted to be confidently looking after those patients by the end of the rotation. That was my goal that I set myself at every single placement. And, it worked! I used to feel a whole lot of achievement and satisfaction in knowing that by the end of that placement, I was looking after those patients in the single room and I was nailing it. I was calling doctors and doing a whole lot of other things that at the beginning of the placement I never thought that I could do. So that was how I used to set my goals around being a student, and it worked! As a graduate, it was the same thing. Your benchmarks move from not just having the clinically most challenging patients, to then wanting to be in charge or a team leader and leading a team of people through a shift. Then I wanted to go on to get into management positions and things like that. Every time you start a job, it doesn’t matter what it is, you never feel like you’re going to be able to do it. You never feel like you’re going to nail it, then after six months, you’re usually pretty confident in what you’re doing and by the end of the year you’re usually nailing it. There have always been little goals and things that I have set for myself along the way.
MA: Great points Lisa, I really like setting goals, and stretching your goals if you like…
LE: Yes, definitely.
MA: You set your goals, and then you stretch them: from looking after the sickest patients in the ward…
LE: And I never thought I was capable of any of that. Here’s someone that didn’t get into hospital-based nursing, I only got in to the university-based course by one mark. Never got anything above a C or a D until I went on my first clinical placement where I got a high distinction. So, I had to work really hard to get where I wanted to go. But I never really believed in myself, that I was capable of those things. So, I just used to start setting small little goals for myself, and I started to achieve them and it was really rewarding.
MA: And your goal was to be a nurse, you succeeded. You became a nurse and then you went on to have a very interesting and eclectic career, as many nurses and midwives do. You and I used to work together, which is a part of the reason why we’re here today, because in nursing and midwifery people form lifelong friendships throughout their career. When I was the director of nursing, and we worked together, you held many different roles in that time. I kept seeing opportunities for you and presenting them to you. I don’t know if you set those as goals for yourself, maybe I set them as goals for you…
LE: Well they kept me interested Mark. You kept me interested and you made me feel like you believed in me and it kept me there.
MA: Good, and I really enjoyed our time working together and I continue to enjoy our friendship. You’ve kindly said several times to me, that I was a mentor for you. Why do you think having a mentor and mentors is important for students and graduates?
LE: Oh, it’s important for everyone. But it’s so important that someone believes in you, because other people see things in yourself that you don’t see. It is one of the key things that we must do, is point out people’s strengths. We’ve become very good at pointing out people’s faults, and whilst that can sometimes be appropriate and necessary in particular situations, it’s really really important that we tell each other what we do well and what we see in somebody else. Quite often, that person will never see that. That day that you said to me, on my first day of working with you, that I see you as the next director of nursing here. I nearly died. I couldn’t believe that you had formed that opinion about me in such a short period of time. That was after I had come out of a period in my life where I didn’t know what direction my career in nursing was going in. I certainly didn’t believe that I had any capability, whatsoever. Now I’m six years down as the director of nursing. People that knew me beforehand, couldn’t believe that I had gotten to this space. But I wouldn’t have gotten to this space if it wasn’t for you and you shining that light on me and then going forward and giving me opportunities a) to grow, and b) to be able to perform in this space.
I am immensely grateful for that, and I try to do that for all of my managers and everyone else that I see. It’s one of the things that I love the most about my role, that job satisfaction you get when a member of your team grows and takes on something bigger than what they’re accustomed to. I love it when I see students that want to be graduate nurses, that want to continue in nursing. I love it when my grads finish their year and say, I actually want to go and learn all of these other things that you talked about, that I need to have. Then I’ll come back to you in five years and be one of your managers. It’s great, I love it! So, it is really important. I think it’s something that not all nurses do really well and it’s something that we need to get a whole lot better at, as a profession, is recognising people’s strengths. We all need succession plans. Everybody else’s success, underneath me, is my success. Why wouldn’t I want them to shine and grow? When people come to work for me, whether they’re working in the hospital as a student or they’re here as a graduate or a manager, I want them to leave having grown personally and professionally as a result of working here.
MA: Great philosophy Lisa! No wonder your culture is fantastic at this hospital.
LE: There’s a number of reasons why the culture is good.
MA: Yes, that’s right. It’s not dependant on one person…
LE: It’s a team, you know, there’s organisational culture. We’re a not-for-profit, mission-based organisation that’s very values based. We live and breathe our values every day: we recruit to them, we manage to them and we work towards them. We roll them out every day. That’s really really important and I’m really lucky to be a part of an executive team who shares that, that’s likeminded and diligent and strong. As a result of that, we’re able to support our managers. Very much, as an executive, we see our role as supporting our managers to be able to do their job to the best of their abilities. And the managers should be doing their best to be supporting the clinical staff as well. That’s what we’re all here for.
MA: Great Lisa, so inspirational. If you’re a student or a graduate listening to this, our advice to you is to find somebody, another nurse or midwife, who you think is exceptional. Tap them on the shoulder and invite them to have a cup of coffee with you. Ask them how they got to where they are. Use them as a bit of a role model and a mentor! I’ve adopted several mentors in my career. Taken them out for a cup of coffee and said, "you don’t know it yet, but you’re one of my mentors" and they usually laugh and they’re very generous about entering into that relationship to enable me to access information or support from them that has enabled me to get to where I am in my career. Like yours Lisa, it’s been very eclectic.
LE: It’s very flattering though, when someone says that they want to be like you.
LE: No one is going to knock that back.
MA: So, Lisa, supporting students and grad students is everyone’s responsibility (as we know). What advice do you have for nurses and midwives who are listening to this and may be thinking: how can I best support students and graduates?
LE: I think empathy is a really big thing that they must hold. It’s really easy for nurses and midwives to become so consumed with what they have on their plates for the day that they forget what it was like to be in that situation, as a student or a graduate. We’ve all been there, and you’ve got to flip your mind back and remember what it felt like. Remember the nervousness. If you’re a manager of a team of people, I think it’s about taking your caregivers down that path, and reminding them as well. But then, also, as manager providing time for your staff to provide that support to students because it is absolutely worth it. They are our future workforce, the more time we spend with them the more work ready they will be and the more help they are going to be to your organisation, your professional and your life in general. There’s this thing in nursing Mark, where we’re not just sustaining a workforce. These are the people that are going to be caring for us when we’re unwell or when we’re in aged care or whatever. I think that it’s this investment in your life as well as your work. It is really important. We want nurses that understand our health beliefs and who are good assessors and who are really kind, caring and compassionate. Regardless of how technological we become in healthcare, and that changes all the time, our core is still our core and we have to be able to listen and communicate with our patients and each other. I really want to see nurses caring for nurses more.
MA: Oh, I totally agree. Our current newsletter is about supporting students and graduates to thrive. You’ve given us some tips already for nurses, midwives, students and graduates to enable them to thrive in the work, study and care that we provide. Self-care was one of those. Seeking a mentor was another, do you have any other tips for them?
LE: One of the things that I do now, that I never did when I was younger, is understand how I tick. I understand that a lot better now than what I did when I was in my 20’s; that’s understanding your personality type, understanding what you’re passionate about and what you’re not passionate about. Understanding the triggers that make you upset and make you feel vulnerable. Emotional intelligence changes as you move through your life, there’s no doubt about that, but I think if I could go back to my 20-year-old self and reflect about who I was at that point and what I wanted and what really aligned with me from a values perspective as well as from an interest point of view, I think it’s a good thing to do. When you’re in senior leadership you end up doing a whole lot of things around your personality profile, and I’ve done executive coaching which is all about testing to really show me what my strengths were and what my weaknesses were. That’s been incredibly helpful to me in terms of what I focus on and what I need to improve on and what I need to get help with. Just understand you and what you want. Set your goals, and re-evaluate your goals. Write them down. I’m really good at keeping a journal now. I don’t write in it every day, but I’ve got a great journal that I take with me to the hairdressers.
LE: Every five weeks I fill out my journal and I answer a whole bunch of questions that I’ve got in this journal. It’s a leadership journal. I do that every five weeks when I go to the hairdressers, and it’s really good. I come out of there feeling reinvigorated as well as having better hair.
MA: So: reflection, self-awareness, a better understanding of you, keeping a journal to enable reflection.
LE: And have some time to yourself. You know, there needs to be a balance it shouldn’t all just be about work. Work is a great part of what we do: it gives you purpose, it gives you meaning, it gives you reason to get out of bed, it opens so many doors for you. For me, nursing has never just been about a pay check. It’s been about what I do and how I go about doing it and the people that you meet along the way. I’ve made some extraordinary friendships. I had a girlfriend over last night that came with me to the Royal Melbourne Hospital to do our testing for training. We both failed. She lined up next to me at Victoria college to enrol. That was all those years ago, and I had drinks with her and her husband last night. You keep these friends for life, and they’re special friends because you see the extraordinary when you’re working in nursing. You see people at their most vulnerable, in their most emotional state and you do a lot together that a lot of your other friends just don’t understand. You grow as a result of what you do at work, so it’s really important that you love what you do.
MA: Indeed, and we met several of your staff members while we did a tour of the hospital. I really connected with those people who you said (and I could tell) were really passionate about the work that they were doing. I think, for me, being passionate about what you do as a nurse or a midwife is really key to the success of our careers. So, my advice to the nurses, midwives and graduates listening to this podcast is to find an area of nursing that you’re passionate about and commit to it. What you’re passionate about may change, there is a big wide world out there…
LE: …there are so many different areas that you can work in. I started nursing because I wanted to become a midwife and I wanted to work in paediatrics, and I’ve never spent a day working directly in either of those…
LE: …because everything else that I have gone into, I have found that I have loved. There have been many things that have taken me left field of anything I ever expected. When you and I worked together, I became very interested in aged care and dementia. If I hadn’t of taken this role, I think that’s the direction that I would have gone in. I would have never ever foreseen that, as a student nurse. There are so many ways that you can spend your day as a nurse and every new job that I have had has felt like a new career. So, you know, it’s not all over if you don’t particularly like the placement that you’re at or the facility that you’re working in. It can also depend on who you work for.
MA: Yes, you’ve created a supportive workplace culture for students and graduates here. What do you think are the important elements of the success of this culture?
LE: They need to feel like they’re a part of the team when they come on placement. They’re not silo’s. I saw one of our students this morning with an educator having some education around the telemetry systems, that’s fantastic. They need to feel that they belong and that they’re a part of the team, around hand over and around mentoring on shift. They need to know what to speak up about, and feel that they can speak up about something that they’re not comfortable with and that they can escalate. That open communication with team leaders and with caregivers on the ward (and managers, where required) absolutely needs to be there. They need to feel safe and that they’re operating within their comfort zone. That’s all about our communication and our support to them.
MA: Thanks Lisa, and what do you say to students or graduates who are struggling or feeling overwhelmed and thinking that this may not be the career for them?
LE: It’s ok to feel like that, and this may not be for everyone. I think it’s important to talk to the right people, and Nurse and Midwife Support is one of those avenues. I think it’s important to maybe try another area or another organisation, if it’s not what you like. But if you are feeling overwhelmed and that it’s not what you want to do every day, then redirect yourself. It is ok to do that. And there are plenty of other options that you can spin off from your nursing education as well. There are many nurses that move into paramedics, physio, OT and other domains of the health sciences. Your nursing degree is a great apprentice for life, so it’s never going to be wasted, even if you choose not to work in it for the rest of your life.
MA: But, of course, we want to keep people in nursing and midwifery. If you want to talk to someone about how you’re feeling, don’t hesitate to call Nurse and Midwife Support: 1800 667 877. It’s anonymous, confidential and free. Lisa, I cannot believe it, we’ve gotten to the end of the podcast. We could talk all day, I know we could. So today we’ve talked about Nurse and Midwife Support as a service. We’ve talked about the challenges for students and graduates, the key elements for a supportive workplace culture and the importance of mentors for the success of students and graduates. We’ve provided tips for thriving, not just surviving, and the importance of accessing support if you’re struggling. Lisa, do you have any final words of wisdom?
LE: Look, to all of you that have chosen nursing as a career, congratulations! Or even if you’re thinking about choosing it as a career, I say, congratulations. I think it’s a career for life, no two days are ever the same. You will never ever look at the clock and think, when will this shift finish? You will never have enough time to do all of the things that you want to do during a shift. If you go home and you think, I can’t wait to go back in tomorrow and see what happened with patient x y or z then you really will love it. I’m always interested in the stories, and what happens to your patients. My heart still sings for the craft, and what it did for me when I was a student nurse. So, I’d say congratulations on your choice, seek out your mentors, get the help that you need. Keep your work/life balance in check, if it’s a part time job for you then that’s ok as well. I always say that it’s an apprenticeship for life and I’m always grateful to have had the opportunity to be a nurse.
MA: Thank you Lisa, you’ve been a great guest. I know that students and graduates listening to this will benefit from what you’ve had to say, and your words of wisdom. You can find out more at nmsupport.org.au we’ve got some great resources on our website. We’ve got a series of podcasts, newsletters, or you can call us anytime on 1800 667 877. If you found this podcast useful, please share it with other nurses, midwives and students. This is important, because your health matters. Look after yourselves, and each other.