Support is everything

Mark Aitken
Welcome to the Winter 2021 Edition of the Nurse & Midwife Support Newsletter.

The focus of this newsletter is all about SUPPORT! We take this opportunity to discuss and explore what support means to nurses, midwives, and students — why the service  is so important, how support can benefit you, how to access support and how to recognise when you may need support. For us supporting nurses and midwifes is core to what we do.

Nurse & Midwife Support is the first national telephone and online service to offer health support to nurses and midwives in Australia. It is free and  confidential service, which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We are in the business of support and our team including nurses and midwives are passionate and committed to supporting YOU.

If you are struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic, support is available.

As I’m writing, virtually half the country is in COVID-19 lockdown. Many are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and exhausted. Now more than ever, it’s important to know that help is only a only a phone call or click away:

1800 667 877

An unexpected extreme weather event and storm impact showed me firsthand how necessary and valuable support is!

Neighbours offer each other support with an elbow bumpOn June 9th, the weather report for many parts of Victoria including my local region in central Victoria, warned us that there was going to be a once in a 100-year storm. 

The weather reported warned Victorians to: 

seek shelter in a safe place, do not go outside or drive through flood waters, batten down objects that could become missiles. 

When my power went off at 6pm that evening I thought: “Here we go! Brace yourself, it is going to be a bumpy night!”

At the time I had no idea how extreme the impact would be. Bumpy is an understatement — my garden and the forest surrounding my home still looks like a bomb has hit it. I didn’t understand the destruction the storm would cause and emotional roller coaster that the aftermath of the devastation would elicit. 

The storm raged for over 12 hours. Huddled in bed with my partner and two dogs we spent a sleepless night listening to ancient trees groaning, ripping, crashing and hitting anything in their path. I could hear trees hitting other trees and buildings as they fell, not knowing if the next tree to fall would be the one to come through the roof. There were many reports in the aftermath of the storm of people having trees fall through their roof and land in their bedroom! I feel fortunate that this did not happened to us.

The next day, when it was safe to survey the damage, we realised the extent of the destruction. The crumpled garage roof had massive fallen trees on it. Our ‘indestructible’ ute (as the advertising infamously claims) was crushed by two giant trees, blocking the driveway and access to the outside world.

No power, running water or hot food or drink for 3 days. Over the next few days, I learned the nature of support firsthand and its importance to wellbeing, safety, and recovery. The SES, forestry workers and CFA who risked their own safety to check on the community and clear roads and driveways were the first line of support. My battery-operated transistor was a lifeline of information and support. Neighbours checked in and we supported each other, family and friends offered support and a friend took us and two dogs into her home when we could eventually get out after 72 hours. I will never take friendship, a hot shower or warm soup for granted again!

Two weeks after the storm, I was leaving to return to Melbourne and a car pulled into my driveway. Two people cheerily said hello and announced they were volunteers with the Red Cross, doing welfare checks in the area and offering support. They asked about the impact of the storm and inquired about our welfare. Forty-five minutes later I finished telling them my story. Another debrief that was part of me processing what happened. Talking about the storm impact and my response was strangely comforting, a form of support that was integral to me making sense of what happened. I expressed thanks for their support and concern. I’m so grateful for organisations like the Red Cross and the volunteers of all organisations who provide support in so many ways.

And thank you to the nurses and midwives in my life who have given me support.

My reflections: Reach out for support sooner rather than later

Following the storm, I have reflected that support comes in many forms and we do not necessarily know that we need support until it is offered and provided. I’ve been reminded of this piece I wrote in December 2020 about the importance of reflection to find balance and move forward. 

The right support changes lives

In our 2020 story competition Frankie Finch wrote a beautiful and poignant story winning the best midwifery story for B & Me: A Graduate Midwife’s Story. Frankie told how her mentor B helped her to navigate her graduate year in midwifery. 

In a podcast about the story, I asked Frankie what support meant to her, how important is it that nurses and midwives get support and what Frankie would say to a midwife who needs support?

This is what she said:

Support is everything. Being a midwife it’s a part of who we are. When we do this job, we want to do it well because it’s a reflection of who we want to be as people. What kind of care we want to provide, this is the sort of experience where without the correct support it could have broken a human? Using the supports that are there, for hospitals, providing those supports. To have another midwife with me there, in that experience. To have my graduate coordinator support me to be ready to go and do that, before being thrown in the deep end, it meant that (while it was sad) it was an experience for growth and empowerment. That’s how you spin those types of experiences to become positive ones, by having the appropriate support. If you’re a midwife out there who feels like it’s not there, there are obviously places that you can reach out to. Find your champion at work, is the best thing to do. The people that you can go to just to debrief, who are always going to listen. I feel like that has been pretty important in my success, in this high-risk stressful environment that I work in.”

Nurse & Midwife Support was established to provide support to nurses and midwives

Nurse & Midwife Support evolved from the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia’s (NMBA) commitment to the support of nurses, midwives and students and the mandate of the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) to protect the public from harm because of impairment of health practitioners. Ahpra on behalf of NMBA commissioned ACIL Allen Consulting to review Referral, Treatment and Rehabilitation Services for Regulated Health Practitioners with an Impairment. In May 2015 the review concluded:

“The relatively high incidence of health impairment in the workforce and the influence of nursing and midwifery practice on patient outcomes means that it is important to consider what support is required for this professional group, not just for the nurse or midwife themselves but to improve protection of the public and the reputation of the profession.”

In response to the findings the NMBA allocated the funding to establish a national support service for nurses and midwives through a tender process. Turning Point was appointed to establish and operate the service and in 2017 Nurse & Midwife Support was launched. We have proudly supported nurses, midwives, and students since. 

Support comes in many forms

In this issue of the newsletter, we will hear from nurses and midwives about the support they offer, provide and receive from each other, highlighting  some unique services that are available to provide support to clinicians at all stages of their career. 
Support is available and experienced in a variety of ways and there is no right or wrong was to access support. The important factor is nurses, midwives, and students know that it is available and how to access it. We recognise you may need different types of support throughout your career it may include support from colleagues, your manager, nurse/midwife educators, friends, family, your faith, a special interest group, a pet, or professional peak bodies, such as: 

Other supports available to nurses, midwives and students include:

  • professional mentors
  • manager
  • nurse/midwife educators
  • communities of practice
  • social media groups
  • special interest groups
  • peak bodes
  • unions
  • friends
  • colleagues
  • critical incident debriefing
  • University student societies
  • Employee Assistance programs
  • Organisations committed to supporting health and wellbeing

Here are some other services and communities doing incredible work. 

Just Listening: a service committed to listening and providing support

In May 2021 Nurse Practitioner and psychotherapist Matt Ball launched Just Listening in South Australia. Just Listening provides a free community space creating connection for those in distress, crisis, or suicidal-needing support.

Yarning circles: Research-backed support for First Peoples’ midwives

Yarning Circles are a traditional part of First Peoples’ culture that have been used for centuries to learn from a collective group, build respectful relationships, provide support and to preserve and pass on cultural knowledge.

In March 2020 research was published outlining the influence of yarning circles on providing support for Australia’s First Peoples’: The Influence of yarning circles: A cultural safety professional development program for midwives.

The research found yarning circles can encourage midwifery academics’ awareness of Cultural Safety. Awareness is the first step towards becoming culturally safe. Yarning provides a safe and supportive space for challenging discussions and reflective learning about racism, white privilege, and difference. Midwifery academics described steps they could take to promote Cultural Safety in the classroom.

Six key themes emerged from the research centred on participants’ Sense of Belonging, Sense of Safety, Sense Knowing, Sense of Support, Sense of Difference, and Sense of Challenge were identified. These concepts were supportive of participants’ developing awareness of Cultural Safety.

The Nurse Break: By nurses for nurses

Recently on the Your Health Matters podcast I spoke to an entrepreneurial and inspiring nurse, Jackson Heilberg, founder of The Nurse Break (TNB). TNB is a peer-to-peer learning and support platform. Check out the episode to hear Jackson talk about how TNB supports nurses, midwives, and students and why he is passionate about supporting early career nurses.

Entrepreneurial nurses and midwives providing support

There are many nurses and midwives supporting their colleagues in innovative and creative ways here are some of them:

If you know another entrepreneurial nurse/midwife, I would love to hear about them!

In this edition

Honouring and celebrating our nurse/midwife friends who give us support

Our nurse/midwife friends are often our main stay of support. They understand us like nobody else does as they have similar work experiences and challenges and “get” what support we need often without us having to ask for it. My colleague Elle has been a nursing friend for 4 decades throughout my nursing career. We recently shared the story of our long friendship. 

Elle and Mark: 37 years of friendship and counting!

To honour and celebrate our nurse/midwives’ friends we want to read your stories about them. We invite you to write a story about a nurse/midwife friend or group of friends and submit it.

Check out the competition

Tailored support for aged care nurses

We hear from aged care nurses that being under the spotlight with the aged care royal commission and the impact of COVID-19 has been stressful, anxiety-provoking, and traumatic.

A grief and trauma support package has been developed by the Australian Government Department of Health, Phoenix Australia and aged care experts and is available to support aged care workers, residents, and families. We’ve collected more resources for the aged care sector in this edition of the newsletter.  

Nursing and midwifery societies offer invaluable support

Being a student can be exciting, challenging, and overwhelming. It is vital that nursing and midwifery students have support when they need it. 

Many universities that offer nursing and midwifery degrees have societies that provide invaluable support to student nurses and midwives, such as academic assistance, wellbeing events, and liaison with campus counselling services. Notre Dame NURSOC leaders Ruby Tilley and Annabelle Leonard join us in this issue to explain the work they do to offer students a vital source of support.

Nurse & Midwife Support has also developed resources to help students. Check out:

Chatting with The Happy Nurse

The Happy Nurse Podcast, born from founder Elaina Mullery’s lived experience of burnout, has support for nurses and midwives at the core of every episode. I was invited to be her guest on a very special episode where we celebrate International Nurses Day and all that supports the health and wellbeing of nurses and midwives.

Elaina has joined us to share her thoughts on how she came to start a podcast to support her fellow nurses through the COVID pandemic. 

Clinical supervision aids supported reflection

Clinical supervision is an important form of support for nurses and midwives. Clinical supervision is a formal process that aids supported reflection. It is one tool underutilised by nurses and midwives to provide support.

Clinical supervision is a process of professional support and learning in which nurses and midwives are assisted to develop their practice through regular time spent in reflective discussion with experienced and knowledgeable colleagues trained in providing clinical supervision. 

On Episode 27 of the podcast I talk to Julie Sharrock, an experienced registered nurse and clinical supervisor about the importance of clinical supervision and professional self-care as an essential form of support for nurses and midwives.

Julie also wrote for us on Clinical Supervision: What is it about?  

If you feel unsupported, we are here to support you.

Some nurses and midwives and students tell us they feel unsupported. I am always sorry to hear this and want you know that support is available 24/7 and is only a phone call or click away!

1800 667 877

Support is everything!

Mark Aitken RN
Stakeholder Engagement Manager
Nurse & Midwife Support