Nurses and patient in emergency department

Behind the scrubs: Registered Nurse to Policy Advisory via Telehealth

December 12, 2023

Have you ever thought about a career other than nursing? Say hello to the registered nurse who nearly became a speech pathologist but instead followed in her Grandmother’s footsteps. This week features Josephine, reformed rebel, RN8+, and Masters Graduate, and her journey from registered nurse in the emergency department to a role in policy advisory with a uPaged telehealth job along the way.

So Josephine, tell us … why did you choose nursing as a career?

I didn’t choose to be a nurse, nursing chose me. A typical inner-city public high school girl, I was quite rebellious and unable to understand the importance of my education. I got into a Bachelor of Science program at Sydney University. After accepting, I decided that I wanted to be a speech pathologist, and discovered that I would have a better chance of getting into the course by transferring from another health degree. So off I trotted to the Sydney University Mallet St Nursing Campus, to convince them to let me in as a late entry. A week after that, I was on the train and a very eccentric passenger was chatting to me and said “you know, you really look like a nurse” which I took as a sign. My grandmother was also a nurse at Prince Henry until she married which I had no idea of until I was well into my nursing journey. The rest is history.

When and where did you do nursing training?

I studied at the University of Sydney, from 2003 to 2007. The degree I came out with is a Bachelor of Nursing (Indigenous Australian Health), which was a new program that the University of Sydney was running at the time. My third year was split across two years making it four in total full time, and the rest of the third and fourth years study matter was Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health specific content.

What was the best thing about your training?

To my knowledge there are only four of us with this degree. The three other students and I had an incredible and intimate study journey and were privileged to be welcomed to and learn with many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators, professionals, and communities. We formed a beautiful bond together and are still friends today.

What specialty did you start in?

I started my nursing career as an Emergency Nurse in a busy tertiary centre. I loved my workplace, the people, the culture and for this reason stayed there for 5 years. To this day, I still feel so incredibly grateful for the nurturing, education and support I received in this department. The nurse educators were so passionate about their work, and because of this really gave me a solid knowledge base and foundation to start my practice on, which I don’t believe my degree really facilitated. During my time at this hospital I was supported to complete my Graduate Certificate in Critical Care (emergency stream) through the College of Nursing. I then moved to a rural setting, working again in Emergency.

Tell us more …

The change from a well-resourced, large city hospital to a struggling, dilapidated base hospital was a real eye-opener for me and probably the clincher for my gratitude towards the training I received in my previous role in the city. The benefit of working in this smaller setting was the increased opportunity to influence for positive change. I was really satisfied by taking part in numerous quality improvement projects during this time, and also completed my Master of Nursing with Griffith University.

And now …?

Since then I have embarked on a bit of a career change and am now working in a policy and programs role within the health service. I can’t forget to mention a fun little stint with Medibank Nurse Triage, facilitated seamlessly by uPaged (awe, shucks… thanks 🙏 Josephine 🙂 🥰). This was so great as an adjunct to my emergency nursing knowledge and really instilled my confidence in the Telehealth system, such a huge part of our health resources now. So far this change to the behind the scenes team has been for the best. I am loving the autonomy I have in my new role, and it is incredibly flexible so suited to family life with little children.

What is a common myth about your job or field of expertise?

That “you must see some awful, awful things in ED” (alluding to blood and guts and trauma). While this is somewhat true; we do see some awful things, but they are rare in comparison to everything else we see such as chronic illness, the worried, the well, and mental illness. We are also privileged to be constantly holding people, sometimes on the best or worst day of their lives, and in that sense, the negative stigma that sometimes gets attached to an emergency nurse’s role isn’t true.

Which has been your best nursing job ever, and why?

I have to say my first nursing job, and I was so passionate about it I loved to learn I had nothing else going on in my life as a distraction and could really give it my all, which was completely reciprocated to me by my superiors at the time. I have made lifelong friends including my husband who I met through this role, and I cherish this time and the way it has shaped the life I have now.

Tell us about your most memorable patient?

My favourite and most memorable patient would have to be a young homeless woman and sex worker with severe mental health and substance abuse issues. She was a “frequent flyer” at the first big city hospital I worked in. She presented as pretty aggressive and scary, often yelling swear words and abuse at people. However, she was always so appreciative of the care she got, apologising to the staff if she ever crossed the line. She once dumped a full bucket of water on a group of men fighting in the waiting room to break up a fight, and then disappeared into the night again. You had to watch the saved security footage to really believe such a ridiculously amazing and heroic story. Reports from former colleagues are that this woman is now doing really well; recovered from addiction and was even able to see her children again.

What do you love about being a nurse?

The connection we have with people; our patients, their family, other nurses and health professionals, and other staff around us. We can really make such a difference to those around us, and as nurses we just have that knack of knowing how.

Celebrate the small wins! Like getting a cannula in the foot of a client who has used up all their other peripheral access sites, or getting a patient straight to the CT scanner from triage, or seeing the weight gains in a fully breastfed baby of a first time mum with milk supply issues.

What do you like least about your nursing job?

The lack of recognition; both financially and professionally. I am really sick of nurses being undervalued in society. (Editors note: We’re really really really trying hard to address all these issues through uPaged 🙂). I feel this amongst society in a political and economic sense, but also unfortunately with friends, colleagues, family.

What gives you the ‘ick’? What is your biggest nursing pet peeve?

Dental injuries absolutely make my stomach turn!! My biggest pet peeve in nursing is seeing IV lines flapping in the breeze and not secure. Oh … and when a patient doesn’t have a wristband on!!

One that was funny, incredible, strange and scary at the same time, was on a night shift in the early hours of the morning. A colleague and I were preparing an older person for the operating theatre who suffered from dementia. We had explained to her what we were doing but due to her mental state and it being the middle of the night she understandably tried to stop us. All of a sudden lashed out and slapped me right across the face, which gave me the most almighty shock. Whilst trying to comfort the lady, we could not stop giggling but at the same time I was sobbing and had tears streaming down my face, possibly from the pain or the shock or both. A moment that only another nurse would ever understand or see the humour in.

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?

My colleagues always say that my gut feeling about patients is usually correct.

Top career tips for aspiring nurses?

Take it seriously and learn as much as you can from those around you. Master the basics first.
Make sure you are supported in your graduate year, so you can consolidate your knowledge and skills.
Be adaptable – be happy to adopt, facilitate and lead change.

Document everything as if you will be put on the stand in a coroner’s court. I was trained like this in my first ED job by the Clinical Nurse Educator. And I am so thankful that I listened because abiding by this actually meant that on one occasion I wasn’t required to appear in court due to my diligent documentation.

What is the biggest challenge you face in your nursing job?

The lack of financial recognition. I really struggle with knowing that unskilled workers around me are getting paid more by the hour. It’s so disappointing and degrading.

What’s the single thing that annoys you most that you see other nurses do?

When nurses act unprofessionally or are clinically unsound and don’t address it. I feel this adds to the undervalue we are already subject to. I can’t stand it when nurses swear, or use poor clinical language.

Q: How do you de-stress from the juggle of everything you do?
A: Collapse on the couch and Netflix! Walk and ride bikes with my kids. Get away for the weekend. Take really deep breaths in and out all the time.
Q: If you could go back and give your 18-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
A: Pick one thing and stick with it. Don’t just give up if it becomes too hard.
Q: What underrated tool(s) are indispensable for your job?
A: My fob watch!
Q: If you could change one thing in nursing, what would it be?
A: The pay. Most definitely.
Q: Finish this sentence: If I could start over again, I would …
A: …. not worked so many nights overtime!
Q: Who or what keeps you motivated?
A: My mortgage!! 
Q: Favourite holiday destination?
A: Japan
Q: What’s the single most important trait you think a nurse should have?
A: High-level and adaptable communication skills.
Q: What’s one lesson your job has taught you that you think everyone should learn at some point in their life?
A: Don’t judge other people. You have no idea of their experience in life.
Q: What’s the quote you live by?
A: Work to live, don’t live to work (Editors note: Amen to that!)

Want more? Check out the Behind the Scrubs archive

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