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The embodiment of nuturing

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The embodiment of nuturing

Mothers and nurses are very much alike, but the combination of roles creates very special caregivers. WORDS: Lucinda Dean.

If mothers are the backbone of the family, then nurses (who are sometimes mothers, too) would be the cornerstone of our health system. Nurses who juggle motherhood and working to care for others are the embodiment of nurturing.

This Mother’s Day falls on International Nurse’s Day, which is celebrated each year on May 12: Florence Nightingale’s birthday.

Nightingale was dubbed ‘The Lady with the Lamp’ by those she nursed during the Crimean War because she carried a lantern on her hospital night rounds.

When Nightingale and her nurses arrived at the military hospital at Scutari near Constantinople (now Istanbul), it was reportedly dirty, overrun with vermin and lacking in basic provisions and equipment. Nightingale and her team improved the sanitary and medical conditions, established food kitchens, washed linen and clothes and wrote home on behalf of the soldiers.

Throughout her prodigious career, Nightingale would establish a school of nursing in London (which was replicated worldwide), write a renowned publication about nursing, and advocate for social reform in healthcare and nursing in consultation with the British Government and the Crown. She was a pioneer, leader, reformer, educator, and statistician who is recognised as the philosophical founder of modern nursing.

This year’s International Nurse’s Day theme revolves around reform, and the concerns it raises are just as relevant today as in Nightingale’s day. It highlights the economic power of care, which aims to reshape perceptions and demonstrate how strategic investment in nursing can bring considerable economic and social benefits.

My Weekly Preview spoke with a local mother and son who are nurses at Sunshine Coast University Hospital (SCUH). Nurse practitioner in wound management and stomal therapy, Michelle Carr, 56, comes from a family of healers.

Her mother Colleen was a nurse and her son Leith, 31, has also followed in his grandmother’s and mother’s footsteps as a rehab nurse and educator at SCUH.

“My mum was a great role model,” Michelle says.

“She juggled a large, blended family and a career but always made sure we were her priority.”

However, it wasn’t until Michelle became a mum herself that the seed within (nursing) germinated and took root.

Leith was born prematurely and spent the first two months of his life in hospital.

“What I loved, in amongst all that I was going through, was all the nurses around me – seeing their teamwork, their professionalism and how they made my world so much better with a very small, very early baby,” Michelle says.

“Being a consumer of that service, I could see that (nursing) really was the direction I wanted to take.

“I started studying with a one-year-old. My son’s always been around me studying and he’s been able to see that learning is important.”

Another lightbulb moment, which affirmed Michelle was on the right career path, was seeing her mum on the cover of a nurse journal. Michelle says Colleen was a nurse leader at a time in Australian history when the old nursing system was being translated into a new one recognising nursing levels (as it stands today).

“And there she was, urging caution because they (nursing staff) were wanting to strike and in the photo, she’s standing with a microphone urging calm, to do things a different way,” Michelle says.

“It was wonderful to see this picture of my mum as someone who had helped shape the future of Australian nursing because I really didn’t realise the impact she had had.”

Like mother, like daughter, Michelle is a leader in her field, too. In 2001, she moved to the Sunshine Coast to become the wound management/stoma therapy nurse.

“At the time, it was just me overseeing wounds, stomas and pressure injury prevention in the Sunshine Coast Health Service Hospitals but now I lead a team that has grown to include five nurses and an administration officer,” she says.

After completing a second Masters degree, Michelle became an endorsed nurse practitioner in 2014. Nurse practitioners can order tests, prescribe some medications, and refer patients to specialists when necessary. Currently, they make up less than one per cent of the nursing population. Michelle’s decision to take this career path was sparked by a conversation with a friend of hers who is a NASA rocket scientist.

“He asked me, ‘What are the challenges in your field?’, and that really made me start to think,” Michelle says.

“The biggest challenge in my field was there was no rapid access for people with problems with their stomas or wounds to be able to access the help that they needed in the right environment.

“I wanted to specifically design a service that my mum could use, or that I could use in the future, and that meant I needed to be a nurse practitioner to do that.”

Michelle acknowledges she was very fortunate to have nursing and medical leaders at SCUH who shared her vision of a dedicated nurse-led clinic that would allow rapid access to innovative, contemporary assessment and treatment.

Pressure injury prevention and management is a big part of the wound nurses’ role, of which Michelle is the clinical lead. The Sunshine Coast district was recognised as consistently the best in Australasia within its peer group with the lowest prevalence of hospital-acquired pressure injuries.

Michelle is also an international leader in stomal therapy nursing. She was one of 12 people in the world invited to be part of an education development program, which meets in the Northern Hemisphere twice a year. The program develops educational tools for nurses and ostomates (the clinical name of a person with a stoma).

It’s little wonder that, in 2023, Michelle won the Sunshine Coast Health Nurse of the Year Award in recognition of the consistently excellent care she provides to consumers and the high esteem her colleagues have for her.

Son Leith, though, has always been Michelle’s number-one priority.

“When I finished my first Masters, I pushed ‘enter’ for the final draft and I sat in my house thinking, ‘Okay, where’s the bells and whistles and the explosions of confetti’, and there were none,” she recalls.

“Next thing, I get this tap on my shoulder: ‘Can I have a cheese sandwich please?’, and I thought, ‘Isn’t that it?’.

“I’ve just done this amazing academic thing and my son wants a cheese sandwich. It brought me down to reality.”

Leith says he’s always been proud of his mum because when he was growing up, she would always say, “I’m off to save lives” as she was going to work.

His mum steered him towards nursing, saying he would get to work with smart people and have all the opportunities in the world.

“Growing up, I always thought that everyone went to university because she did and I was shocked to find out that not everyone does,” Leith says.

“Seeing the amazing work my mum does with her patients, as well as her educating and presenting internationally, it’s been incredibly inspiring to see her reach these amazing goals.

“With this example, I have moved into an educator role now with my career and am also able to make a positive difference to others.

“As for my grandmother, I was too young to appreciate her work at the time.

“However, I did get a chance to work with her at the end of her career and she showed me how positive, strong leadership in management and education could empower those around me to deliver excellence in care.”

Michelle, who started work in hospitals as a cleaner, can attest that health is a machine with many cogs in the wheel.

“It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a team to run a service as complex as health provision,” she says.

“Without all of the members of the team playing their part, neither a child nor the health system will thrive.

“To be both a good mum and a good nurse, you need creativity, strong problem-solving skills and to have great communication and negotiation skills.

“The rewards are enormous when you see your children reaching their potential and your patients optimising their health outcomes as a result of your skills, knowledge and encouragement.”

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