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Diving into the ward's deep end

By Josh Jennings

Every day offers a different challenge for a clinical nurse specialist, writes Josh Jennings.

The three young patients Geelong Hospital paediatric nurse Bree Smith is looking after today have diverse health issues.

One is unable to walk on her right foot because of a chronic pain condition known as complex regional pain syndrome. Another has an ulcer on his hand. The third has a rare enzyme disorder that requires a weekly infusion for the rest of his life.

"That was my day today," Smith says. "But on other days you might have a fracture, an appendix, a tonsils kid and a newborn baby who is having feeding problems.
"Every day is different on our ward. It's just so different. We get everything."

Smith is a clinical nurse specialist in Geelong Hospital's paediatric ward. To be eligible for her role, she says, nurses need a graduate diploma (minimum), two years' experience specialising in paediatric nursing and a portfolio of knowledge in their specialty area.

The specialist nurse is required to be a role model, mentor and knowledge resource for less-experienced nurses, to apply a high level of skill to clinical decision making and to improve clinical standards at the hospital.

"Basically I get a patient load and do the same work as a grad nurse, casual or division-one nurse would do, but because clinical nurse specialists are seen as senior staff, we'll get the more complex and sick patients that need more care and knowledge," she says.

"If I have really good support on my shift, sometimes it's nice to get thrown in the deep end."

Smith became a clinical nurse specialist in 2007. She says her career highlights include several months working on the children's ward at the Alice Springs Hospital - taking care of Aboriginal children with different health issues and family dynamics to the problems she typically encounters in Geelong - volunteering in an orphanage in Ghana, and completing her master's in nursing (specialising in paediatrics).

In Smith's final year of her master's, she was named the outstanding final-year student in postgraduate coursework.

"When I got it, I was like, 'What? Really?"' she says. "But knowing that the amount of time and effort I put into my master's paid off was good. It gave me reassurance that I did know what I was talking about."

The next career step for Smith is to complete her lactation consultant studies. Beyond that, she will consider applying for a permanent nurse unit manager position on her ward in the next three to five years.

"I've already done two years [as an] associate nurse unit manager on night shift and my current temporary associate nurse unit manager position," she says, "so it's not a position I wouldn't consider because I think I'm unable to do it.

"It would just depend on where I'm at professionally and personally at the time."

Industry job focus: Medical administrators
Number employed in year to August 2012 - 18,400
Growth in past 10 years - 217.6%
Average weekly wage (full time) - $1512
Average weekly wage (full time all occupations) - $1144
Full time 87%
Average weekly hours full time 42.1
Unemployment - Low 

Published: 29 September 2012

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