“There’s a lot of pressure on young people to know exactly what they want to be. But I think there are plenty of opportunities to go and experience things, and see what you like. And if you don’t like it, you can always pivot and try something else“
What exactly does a School Health Nurse do?
I work with students who are aged between 12 and 16 years of age. But I see my role as being very broad. It’s not just about supporting the physical and mental wellbeing of the students, it’s about supporting the health and wellbeing of the school community, which includes the teachers and the families as well.
What’s the most rewarding part of the job?
The most rewarding part for me isthe potential to influence the pathway of a young person’s life. Sometimes there may be things they may not want to talk to their parents or teachers about. I provide an environment where they can come in and talk to me, where they’re not judged, they’re treated with respect and empathy. They can just come in and ‘de-load’ everything that’s going on in their world – that’s incredibly powerful.
Can you give me an example?
Sure. I had a student who was in Year 8, and it was looking like she wasn’t going to finish high school because she wouldn’t attend school. She was consumed by anxiety, and I managed to help her to come back to school. We started off by getting her to attend one lesson per week with me, and then we gradually built it up to get her back into her classes. She ended up finishing and attending the end-of-year celebrations.
What qualifications do you need to perform the role?
You have to be a registered nurse so you’ll need a Bachelor of Nursing. I also have a Graduate Diploma in Midwifery as well, which is definitely looked upon as an advantage because it shows you have extended education and training in a certain area.
Why did you choose this particular area of nursing?
I was looking for something that was more in alignment with day work, but I was also drawn to getting into primary health care. So rather than working in a hospital, for example, where you’re often dealing with people who are already unwell, this is getting in beforehand, and helping to make a difference in a young person’s life.
So, as part of your job, do you go into the classroom?
Absolutely. For example, I might go into a classroom with a group of girls in Years 7 or 8 to deliver topics which I know are sometimes hard to talk about for some girls. Or other times it might be about mental health, and how to develop self-confidence and self-esteem. But I also do plenty of one-on-one work in my office as well, with both boys and girls at the high school.
Do you ever have direct involvement with the parents?
Sometimes. For example, I’ve had parents who I’ve had to ring up regarding questions around medical issues that may be going on for their child. Or if their child has ongoing health conditions, I can help to link them into health services outside of the school.
What are the biggest challenges in your role as a School Health Nurse?
One of the challenges would be how much you can do in a small amount of time when you’re here.
Are you able to switch off when you finish your day at school?
There are some days when there are big things going on and it’s harder to do that, but for the most part, yes. At the end of day I can shut down my computer, it’ll be there when I get back.
So how often are you working at the school?
I work three days per fortnight. It’s a very flexible environment actually. I came back from maternity leave on reduced hours, but if I chose to work full-time I could do it, and that’s one of the good things about nursing – there’s lots of flexibility.
Have you always wanted to do nursing?
No. I was one of those kids who really didn’t know what I wanted to do, which frustrated me a little because everyone else seemed very clear on what they wanted to do.
What other career paths have you explored?
Initially, I started in hair and beauty. I had family members who were hairdressers and I was always cutting my friends hair at school, or at home. I started off with a hairdressing apprenticeship out of college but I quickly realised I didn’t want to do that long-term so then I went on to do beauty study at TAFE. I opened up my own salon from home while I went back to university. It wasn’t until I had my children that I decided I wanted to become a midwife because the midwife who cared for me had such a profound effect on me. I actually went back to uni as a ‘mature age student’, which seems funny to me because I was only 21.
How long did it take to get the qualifications?
I have a Bachelor of Nursing, which is normally three years full time.
So with the skills and qualifications you have, is there plenty of opportunity to move into other related areas of employment?
The options are endless when it comes to nursing. I also have midwife training, which means I can move into working in a hospital to working in an obstetrics room, or travelling with remote health such as the Royal Flying Doctors. Also, in the primary health care area, I could work in organisations like ‘HeadSpace’, or even a GP clinic.
What advice would you give someone who is struggling to work out what they want to do when they leave school? There’s a lot of pressure on young people to know exactly what they want to be. But I think there are plenty of opportunities to go and experience things, and see what you like. And if you don’t like it, you can always try something else. I remember when I first started uni, there was a lady in her 70s who was starting her degree. Go out and experience the world and try something, and if it’s not right, try something else. Eventually you’ll find something you love.