Today we want to share something special. An interview with Heather, an exceptionally talented and hard-working nurse and midwife from the Northern Beaches of Sydney. Heather has a whopping 41 years of nursing experience and has been working for 27 years as an agency nurse. Throughout this interview, we discuss life as an agency nurse and midwife with Network Nursing Agency (NNA), the challenges and highlights of the job, and what she recommends for new nurses looking to specialise.
This interview was conducted over the phone. I’ve tried to capture everything Heather said and I hope you enjoy it. I’m sure you will be left just as impressed as I was.
Why did you first get into nursing and when did you decide to become a midwife?
I first got into nursing 41 years ago. That makes me feel so old!
I enrolled in nursing school in 1980, straight from high school, when it was still the hospital-based system rather than university-based like we have now. I then specialised in midwifery or “Midi” in 1987.
Since that time I have completed a variety of other courses such as lactate consultant, child, and maternal health nursing, and also completed an advanced diploma in Mental Health in 2016. I really enjoy learning, furthering myself, and my skills to be the best nurse and midwife I can for my patients.
What do you love most about your dual role as an RN and RM with NNA?
Being a nurse and midwife gives you more opportunities. I have been lucky enough to work in a variety of different environments like ICU, cardiac care, birthing suite, general nursing and also community nursing as a midwife. The unknown is fun and exciting for me.
I find that because I specialised in midwifery, I am a better nurse and midwife respectively. I have a clearer understanding of the different aspects of people and how to meet their needs. I can nurse holistically and understand the complexities of healthcare much deeper than I could before I specialised.
Everything in nursing is intertwined. I’ve found that my job is so much more about the person and their family rather than the current health complaint. I like seeing people as a whole and approach each situation holistically.
Being a nurse and midwife allows me to relate to people more easily and therefore I become more trusting. This is especially important as I work the night shift and there are limited people around who can help.
Do you enjoy the flexibility of picking and choosing shifts to suit your family and/or lifestyle?
Absolutely! As I have been doing this for so long I have developed amazing relationships with the manager at my permanent job and also NNA. I am therefore very spoilt with the shifts I have access to.
I love night shifts and will request to work this kind of shift above day and afternoon shifts. I really enjoy the nights because I don’t get interrupted by the busy nature of the day shift and therefore can just get on with my work. There is limited office politics and I can just do my job. It also fits in best with my family and other commitments.
What is a typical day like for you?
Well, I work a permanent night shift schedule 4 nights a week whilst also picking up 2 night shifts a week with NNA.
A typical day looks something like this. After driving home from work, which can be lengthy depending on where I pick up the agency shift, I start the housework and tidy up a bit. I feed the dogs, check my emails, throw on a load of washing - you know the basics.
I then often take a walk on the beach to clear my head which helps me de-stress which is particularly important after a busy shift. If I am going to exercise it’s at this time I do it. I then have something to eat. This meal is usually big as I don’t eat “dinner” before I leave the house before the next night shift.
After eating, exercising, cleaning the house and doing some odd jobs I then go to sleep. I normally try to get 6 hours but this is usually a good day. After waking, I shower, make a coffee, grab a muesli bar or two and start my commute to the next shift.
It’s hard work but I really love it.
What are the main challenges you face as an agency nurse and or midwife?
Cancellations at the last minute. This situation can be frustrating. If you receive a call within a few hours of your shift, there is a limited chance you’re going to secure another job. However, if I receive a cancellation call at 3 pm, for example, it’s likely I am going to obtain a shift elsewhere as there is more time.
NNA has been very good to me in this regard. If I do receive a last-minute cancellation they will ring around different hospitals trying to find me another shift. Sometimes they have success and in other situations, they don’t. I know the cancellation is out of the NNA’s control, so though the situation is frustrating there is not a lot they can do.
When picking up agency shifts I do find that I need to be flexible. I need to work shifts that I don’t necessarily like as much and I also need to travel a little further than I normally do. Like every job, there are good and bad parts but being flexible really helps secure work. This has been particularly important over the last 12 months with COVID.
What advice would you give to other nurses looking to take on a dual role?
If you find something you’re interested in, go for it. But I recommend after you’ve completed your studies to consolidate what you’ve learned in a permanent job for 1-2 years before you join a nursing agency like NNA.
A permanent job after university can offer the support and continued learning you will need in the role, which is something not as readily available with agency nursing. I found that I did a lot of my learning whilst on the job. You need to build your confidence before you enter an agency type environment because people expect you to know what you are doing. You are a very valuable part of the team and you don’t want to be asking questions about how to do your job. It’s okay to have questions about where things are for example but you want to feel confident in your role.
Most agencies have rules around when you can join their agency after specialising so it’s a good idea to look into this too.
Lastly, you need to learn to not be so black and white about things. Each hospital will do things differently but it doesn’t mean they are doing it wrong. This more relaxed approach can take time to develop and why permanent work for a while is a good idea before committing to an agency.
What do you enjoy most about agency nursing?
I have a real passion for nursing and work very hard to make a difference to my patients and clients. I genuinely care about my work and don’t mind completing some overtime to finish a job I started. Some things you just cannot pass over to the next staff member. As an agency nurse, I have so many “2nd homes”. It’s incredible to walk into a shift and to feel valued and part of the team.
I also really enjoy the fact that I can get to know the clients/patients as there are fewer staff around to help, particularly at night. Overnight when I smile at a patient or client they smile back and this brings me great joy. I love meeting different people and helping wherever I can. I really feel appreciated and this is an incredibly rewarding feeling.
What do you love about NNA?
Oh, they are just fantastic with me! I have been with NNA for over 20 years and have great relationships with everyone there. I know all the office staff and they know me. They know I work hard and that I am reliable. They are an amazing friendly crew with the best christmas parties! See the picture of my daugher and me at last year's boat Christmas Party.
I love them so much I told my daughter to find work with them and now it’s 8 years later for her.... and she loves it too.
They are very flexible with finding me the shifts that I want, whilst also calling me for others which I can accept or decline. I feel very spoilt and I am lucky to work with them. I guess they don’t have to worry about me as they realise I know what I am doing and I am reliable.
In summary, as I was wrapping up the interview, Heather mentioned she is very proud of the job she does and said “who would want to be stuck in other jobs where you never see or meet anyone?”
I want to personally thank Heather for taking the time to chat with me to after a busy shift. I think she is an incredible woman and is an inspiration for others to keep working hard in an occupation that brings them joy too.