Bob’s legacy: support for junior mental health nurses
Up to 20 mental health nurses will have the opportunity to take part in a mentoring program in 2020, named in honour of Bob Fenwick, a mental health nurse who tragically died in a workplace incident in 2011.
The NSW Minister for Mental Health, Bronwyn Taylor, recently paid tribute to Bob in a speech to Parliament.
“Bob was posthumously awarded an Australian bravery award for saving the life of a junior nurse in the incident,” she said.
The Minister said Bob was passionate about supporting other nurses, and the award, funded by the NSW government and administered by the NSWNMA since 2011, is designed to help junior mental health nurses “expand their professional support networks” and “increase their knowledge, their competence and their confidence in mental health nursing”.
The program pairs junior nurses with senior mental health nurses or clinicians in a setting different to their usual workplace. The scholarship pays for the mentee’s travel, meals and accommodation, and funds their workplace to cover their absence.
A positive rural experience for a metro nurse
2019 grant recipient Aislynn Kearney, an RN at Nepean Hospital in Penrith, spent five days with Warren Isaac, a clinical nurse consultant with 38 years’ experience at the Tablelands Mental Health Service in Armidale.
Aislynn Kearney: “I work in a standard mental health ward in a metro hospital, so going into a community in a rural area is very different: we’d be driving for an hour to do a home visit.
“One of the things that was really beneficial for me was learning by watching Warren, just the way that he engaged with consumers: even when they weren’t interested or were hesitant to engage he would still manage to reassure them, build rapport and let them know that if they didn’t want support now, he would be there in the future.
“There are lots of challenges in Armidale, but the team works really well because of those challenges. I’ve been using the experience to guide my own professional practice, and I’ve also been working with my clinical NUM to increase engagement with the multidisciplinary team, making sure there is a nurse representative at meetings and that meetings happen, because when you work in a really busy environment meetings can get cancelled.”
Warren Isaac: “Although we are on a smaller scale than Sydney, we have a huge scope of practice, everything from crisis and assessments, acute follow up and assertive outreach, and attempting to reduce the impact of mental health problems and keeping people out of hospital.
“I try to introduce the mentee to a variety of clients so they can see that there are clients in rural areas just as complex as those in city areas, and that you can have a very satisfying career in these areas helping the clients. Aislynn got to see the impact of the drought because we were travelling through very dry country. It is affecting the whole community in many different ways, because we’ve got famers, businesspeople and nurses who are involved in farms … There is a real increased risk of suicide.
“I make a point of passing on particular skills and knowledge. I love promoting the New England area because it has helped me to have a really satisfying career and terrific quality of life.”
A placement full of insight
Meggy Stevens, an RN at Manning Hospital, Hunter New England LHD, was mentored by Abiegail Koroma, a nurse working in child and adolescent mental health at Liverpool Hospital.
Meggy Stevens: “Compared to where I live, Liverpool is so multicultural. And you’ve got people from war-torn countries, people with a lot of traumatic backgrounds.
“Most clients had a background where English was not a first language, so interpreters were used quite a bit and you really had to be on your toes, you had to closely watch the client, the interpreter and the support person because you are relying on looking at their body language and tone of voice to get the full story, because things can get lost in translation.
“Abiegail had experienced a country that had been at war and had civil unrest so she was insightful around a lot of the stuff I was seeing. It is great to be able to bring this experience back into country areas, because we know that migration is starting to flow on to country areas as well, and I know the experience has made me more rounded as a clinician.”
Abiegail Koroma: “I’ve been in mental health for the last ten years, and I believe it is important to share your knowledge with junior nurses to be able to make a difference. In Western Sydney there are a lot of migrants, and there is a stigma around mental health and isolation and people find it hard to talk about mental health issues.
I was able to show Meggy a transcultural mental health service providing a holistic mental health approach. Coming as a migrant from Sierra Leone in West Africa has given me a lot of insight and a better understanding to demonstrate a lot of empathy for people who don’t speak English and come from low socio-economic backgrounds.
I think it is quite important to encourage nurses and expose them to the opportunities out there. Managers also need to be aware of this program and encourage nurses at the beginning of their career to apply.”