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Guests: Maddi Munro, Elle Brown and Helen Pentecost
Tags: Career transitions, Life phases, Careers
SoundCloud: Episode 23: Life phases with Maddi Munro, Elle Brown and Helen Pentecost
As part of my preparation for this podcast I read The Third Space by Dr Adam Fraser, a scientist who studied psychology and physiology. Adam worked in academia for many years and now works as a consultant, career coach and public speaker. Dr Fraser’s book provides useful information about getting the small stuff right — not 'sweating' it, but making it much more rewarding, much more often. Dr Fraser came up with the concept of the third space. That is the space between whatever we are doing now and whatever we are about to transition into.
"The third space is simply a technique that allows us to compartmentalise," Fraser says, a mindfulness and self-awareness method that helps us to decompress in a matter of minutes.
Dr Fraser says that the first phase in The Third Space is Reflect:
“This is where we learn from what we have just done and are able to leave that previous space behind so we can transition cleanly. In other words, the Reflect phase involves checking negative baggage at the door.” (p65)
This reminded me that when considering decisions about life and career it is useful to create space to be still, rested and clear to enable reflection on where you have been and what you want to do next. This will help you to make decisions that are in your best interests.
Our 3 podcast guests share their thoughts, reflections and wisdom about what supports them to make decisions about their life phases and career transitions.
An early career nurse has big plans, lots of ambition and drive. Maddi shares her story about how developing a career plan, utilising nurse mentors and being supported to attend a career defining conference helped her shape her career and feel supported.
A passionate midwife, who following an injury had to think differently about her career and how in the middle of her career returned to study to develop new skills and knowledge that supports her role at Nurse & Midwife Support.
A respected registered nurse, who towards the end of her career utilised her 40 years’ experience and network of support to recognise that she had valuable skills, experience and passion for supporting other nurses and midwives. Thankfully nurses and midwives from all over Australia now benefit from this.
If you are considering a different phase in your life and/or career transition we hope this podcast provides useful information, resources and tips that will assist you to make these important decisions. Spending time in The Third Space may be just what you need to assist your decision-making process.
Your health matters!
Mark Aitken RN
Mark Aitken: Welcome to the Nurse & Midwife Support podcast, your health matters. I’m Mark Aitken, your podcast host. I’m the Stakeholder Engagement Manager with Nurse & Midwife Support and I’m a registered nurse. Nurse & Midwife Support is the national support service for nurses, midwives and students. The service is anonymous, confidential and free. You can call us anytime you need support: 1800 667 877. Or contact us via the website: nmsupport.org.au.
Today my guests and I will be talking about life’s phases and how nurses, midwives and students navigate the complexities of life to make decisions that benefit their career, lifestyles and those that they have responsibility for. This may involve considering applying for a new job, a promotion, moving to a different discipline within the profession, considering further study, living and working overseas or feeling like you’re stuck in a career rut, knowing you need a change but aren’t quite sure how to go about it or planning to transition into retirement.
My guests today are Maddi Munro, an early career nurse who is passionate about using technology to make improvements in healthcare. Welcome Maddi!
Elle Brown is a nurse with 40 years’ experience, committed to supporting nurses and midwives through her role as senior nurse at Nurse & Midwife Support. Elle worked in intensive care units for over 25 years and will share how and why, towards the end of her career, she made the decision to work in a completely different area of nursing. Welcome Elle!
Helen Pentecost is an experienced midwife, now working at Nurse & Midwife Support and studying counselling. Helen will share her wisdom about how she made decisions in her career that enabled her to meet the needs of her family while navigating her career as a midwife and the factors that supported her decision to return to study counselling. Hello, and welcome Maddi, Elle and Helen!
MA: Firstly, to you Maddi, would you please tell us about your career to date? Your current career/life phase and how you made it happen?
Maddi Munro: Thank you for having me on this podcast, first of all. I’m privileged to be a part of it all today. I came out of school and I went to university to study my Bachelor of Nursing. From there, I obtained a graduate program within Queensland Health, it was at an aged care rehab facility. That was great, as a transition from university, to just ground my basic nursing skills and manual handling. After that, I got a job at the Gold Coast University Hospital. I started, first of all, in vascular and medical unit. From there, I worked in medical for a year and a half. I then did six months in an acute surgical unit, found my passion for surgical and now I have been working in orthopaedics for the last year. It’s been quite a different journey for me, I’ve just bounced around in different areas trying to have a feel for what I like. I definitely love orthopaedics and surgical.
As an early career nurse with six years’ experience, I definitely have found many challenges, lots of rewarding moments. A couple of years ago, I attended the Australian College of Nursing Forum on Diversity and Difference. I was lucky enough to be sponsored by Nurse & Midwife Support. For me, it was a life changing opportunity. To really start my leadership and networking with like-minded people in nursing. It just sparked an idea, in me, to start entrepreneur nursing and get that side hustle happening. To think of ways to have an extra income on top of shift work that will help lead me into a career that I want. That’s a little, basic overview of my journey so far.
MA: That’s great Maddi, a really impressive career. You’ve done an incredible amount in six years, so congratulations. What inspired you to achieve what you’ve achieved to date?
MM: I think there’s not one thing that’s inspired me, I think there’s lots of different people. Different moments within my career that has inspired me. From networking with people, peers that I work with every day, they inspire me to just keep going. To follow my dreams. I suppose, putting myself out there and attending conferences and workshops and listening to nurses like yourselves talk about your journey. I think that things like that inspire me to follow in your footsteps and be a part of that. Long story short, there’s not one thing that inspires me, but lots of different things and people that I come across. I want to endeavour to find where I want to go.
MA: Thanks Maddi, much appreciated. Helen, you were a midwife for many years when you decided to make the change to work at Nurse & Midwife Support. What prompted this change? What factors did you consider when making the decision?
Helen Pentecost: I had an injury when I was overseas. At the time, I was working as a family health nurse/midwife out in some rural parts of Victoria and loving what I was doing. But I really wanted to give back to my fellow nurses and midwives. I’d gone into family health nursing from being in delivery wards for a long, long time. I had a fairly catastrophic accident overseas and could no longer feel the bottom of my foot or run or squat down to catch a baby. I was always really nervous about being on a slippery surface and having another accident. I was pretty much forced into leaving ward based and clinical based nursing to go into family health. When this job at Nurse & Midwife Support came up, it just seemed like my perfect job. It was an area of great interest, I really love working with nurses and midwives. I care very deeply about the career pathway and about my fellow peers. It’s something that just popped up in my newsfeed one day, and I thought, “That’s me. This is a role for me.” Four years later, I still love it. I really really love the job, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
MA: That’s great Helen, we’re really glad you joined the team. Obviously. An injury really was a part of that for you, and that’s a story that we hear from many nurses and midwives who are thinking about a different stage of their career or what they might do next. Sometimes it’s not necessarily planned, it’s forced upon them. Do you think that this makes it harder for people to make that decision? If that’s the case?
HP: Yes, I do, definitely. I had no intention of doing any other kind of work. I was a clinical midwife. I love being with babies and mums, it was all I really wanted to do. I had never given any serious thought to leaving, at all. But I was travelling, I was overseas with a friend. With a fellow midwife for a wedding, actually. I fell into a dirty, open gutter in Thailand and ended up with a fairly significant open fracture. After three years’ worth of osteotherapy, drugs and 14 surgeries to save my leg, there was no choice. I really couldn’t walk, I wouldn’t wear bare feet. Being forced into it was really hard. Psychologically, it’s very very difficult to suddenly realise that you can’t do what you love. Like everyone else, I had a mortgage, a family and bills to pay so you’ve got to get money from somewhere. You have to get a little bit creative.
MA: What supported you through that process, Helen?
HP: We didn’t really have any kind of support. There was no Nurse & Midwife Support. There was no EAP. This was 12 years ago, so it was a while ago, although my injury still affects me all of the time. There wasn’t really anything, so it was friends and family. I can say this about my family because they’re no longer with us, but my parents were not the kind of people who would have supported me. Very stiff upper lip kind of family, so that wasn’t going to happen. I was in the middle of separating from a long-term relationship and ended up getting a divorce. There was no support happening there. My daughter, who was 8 or 9 at the time, learnt how to make toast really quickly because mum couldn’t get into the kitchen to make food. I was in a wheelchair for ages and ages. I’m pretty tough, but there wasn’t really support out there. Not like we’ve got now.
MA: If you are listening to this podcast and you are experiencing something similar to what Helen experienced, causing her to have to think differently about her career, Nurse & Midwife Support is available 24/7 to support you through that process: 1800 667 877. Thank you, Helen.
Elle, you had been an intensive care nurse for over 25 years when you made the decision to work at Nurse & Midwife Support. What were the main considerations that supported you to make this change towards the end of your career?
Elle Brown: Mark, that’s a great question. I had recognised about a couple of years before I did change that I was going to look for something different. I didn’t know what it was, I wasn’t very clear about it, but I recognised that it wasn’t sustainable to keep doing what I was doing. I had a need to change, but also had a desire to return something to the profession that had provided me with a rewarding career, challenge, wonder and education. I loved being a clinician, a manager and a student. I recognised that I wanted to do something very different towards the end of my working life. Knowing about a job at Nurse & Midwife Support really aligned with my values. I always believed that nurses and midwives deliver the best care when they are heard and valued. I just think that Nurse & Midwife Support is a much-needed service for the nurses and midwives of Australia. It improves the care of everyone that we treat.
MA: Thanks Elle, that’s incredibly useful to people listening to this podcast who might be working in an area that they’ve worked in many many years and have loved it (as I know you did, and still do have a great affection for the work in intensive care) what you’ve outlined will support people who are experiencing something similar. Thank you for sharing that. Maddi, you’ve got a clear vision for your future and we’ve discussed this outside of the podcast. You outline this in a blog which will be a part of the summer edition of our newsletter, which this podcast is a part of. Could you outline your career vision? And how you developed it? I think that that could be really useful to other nurses and midwives who are early career nurses and midwives considering something similar.
MM: Well, at the moment my career vision is to keep working in a clinical setting at a hospital. I know that long term, it probably won’t agree with my body. It’s easy to get run down with shift work. I, myself, before actually starting nursing I got operated on by an orthopaedic surgeon that I now work with. I was off work for six weeks, on crutches. I had a rocky start to begin with, but after going through that challenge I definitely can see a vision to stay in clinical and mentoring Griffith University students. I put my name down, to start mentoring next year. My vision is to help others. To get the word out there about Nurse & Midwife Support because not many people that I know of, around me, actually know about the organisation. I think it’s very important, especially when burnout is so prevalent in the nursing sector. I want to continue attending workshops, furthering my knowledge. I have a vision of networking, especially with my passion in IT. I’ve reached out to other nurses, through LinkedIn, who have created apps. I just like to do things like that.
MA: That’s great Maddi, thank you very much. I think you make a really good point around our need and our gratitude for any nurse or midwife out there who is able to share the word about Nurse & Midwife Support to their network. There are over 400, 000 registered nurses and midwives across Australia, so we’re quite dependant on our network of supporters and stakeholders to get the word out. So thank you Maddie, we’re really grateful for that. I know we’ve talked about the issue of burnout in nursing and midwifery. We’re very mindful of that, as a service. Particularly in this year, 2020, where we’ve all experienced the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some more than others. We know that some nurses and midwives are experiencing burnout. Not necessarily only as a result of that, but in some instances, it is because of that. We are available to support any nurse or midwife 24/7: 1800 667 877. Thanks for making those really important points, Maddi.
Helen, some nurses and midwives get stuck in a career rut. What do you think can assist them to get unstuck from this rut?
HP: I think, for me, studying has always been really important. I am, by far, not the best student out there. But I think keeping your knowledge up to date, doing different things, it doesn’t mean that you have to go off and do a big course. You can go to professional development days. You can go to conferences and workshops and bits and pieces, just to keep your passion alive and to meet with other like-minded souls. I think working with people who agree with you and have a similar trajectory always makes you much more enthusiastic about what you’re doing. You’ve talked about burnout and I think that this hits most of us at some stage. At Nurse & Midwife Support, we can help you with that. Sometimes, it’s a matter of being kind to yourself. Taking some time off, really attending to your own needs, putting yourself first, now and then. Taking that leave when you’ve got it. Following your passions, following your interests, making sure that you’ve got a life outside of work is very important.
MA: Great points, Helen. I think if people find themselves in that situation, it can be useful, as you say, to speak to other people. Or, to identify someone you know who works in an area that you’re interested in. Tap them on the shoulder and say, “Hey, can I actually take you out for a cup of coffee and talk about how you got to where you are? I’m kind of interested in that.” I’ve done that in my career and I’ve found people incredibly helpful, supportive and always willing to do it. If you don’t know that person, there’s another opportunity to call Nurse & Midwife Support because we can provide that support for you. Thanks very much.
Elle, nurses and midwives at the end of their career can find it challenging to plan for the end of their career. In fact, many nurses and midwives say that they’ve always been working in this space. I hear many nurses and midwives that I meet in the community identify as retired nurses or retired midwives. This work becomes, very much, a part of our identity. What factors do you recommend that nurses or midwives consider when working through some of the issues or considerations towards the end of their career?
EB: Thanks Mark, another really good question. When thinking about this, I thought that it’s never too late for a good financial plan and to become financially literate. Having a plan doesn’t mean you have to set it in stone and never deviate from it. It just means that you have something in the background that you’re working towards. Or a goal that you’re working towards. Have a plan to wind back your hours. You can get trapped into working more towards the end of your career, to increase your post-retirement income. But the physical and mental toll can be punishing and leave you burnt out.
Think about how you want to leave, do you want that to be an active decision on your part? Or, do you want to be nudged? Or, worst case scenario, do you want to be performance managed out? Try not to be suck, unable to achieve your financial goals or any other goals and unable to work in a satisfying job because this will make life very bleak. If you’re thinking about it, and you need someone to talk about how to navigate that last part of your career. Last third, last quarter, however you want to think about it. Give us a call. Definitely give us a call on 1800 667 877, because you will find someone on the end of the phone who can bounce ideas with you.
MA: Great points Elle, thank you. I think that one of the take away’s there is to plan to go out on a high note because that’s our lasting impression in life. Really reflect and celebrate what you’ve achieved in your career as you plan to transition from actively working as a nurse or a midwife to the next phase of your life. Exciting times, for many.
Maddi, what advice do you have for early career nurses and midwives in relation to career planning? You’ve really considered, I think, your career and put your plan in place. How do you advise other nurses and midwives to plan for their careers?
MM: I think it’s much the same as Elle, about not loading too much on your plate, especially when you’re starting out and are brand new at something. There, again, burnout can happen. If I’ve just finished nine shifts in a row, I’m tried. I think it’s a matter of putting self-care first, especially when you’re an early career nurse. Talking to your peers, talking to your friends, having lots of days off and extra time to just chill and take it easy. Not only is it physically demanding, but in that initial stage of starting out as a nurse, you’re absorbing so much information that you’re mentally challenged. Mentally drained. But, there’s always peers. There’s always people around you who are happy to support and guide you in your journey. I think it’s a matter of communicating your thoughts. Taking time for yourself. Setting those goals, attending whatever education fascinates you. Taking that extra time out. For me, I did my postgraduate certificate in acute care nursing, but I had a gap year before my grad year to embed those foundational skills first. Then I did my extra training over two years, so I didn’t have to be bombarded by the pressures of life. There’s always people to talk to, Nurse & Midwife Support can help guide early career nurses as well as late career nurses who are ready for retirement. We’re all here to support one another. In our heart, as nurses we’re kind and caring souls. We don’t want anyone to struggle.
MA: Great advice Maddie, thank you. I’d like to reiterate your point about self-care. We talk a lot, at Nurse and Midwife Support, about the importance of self-care. We’ve got many, many resources to guide and support you. Check out our website: www.nmsupport.org.au. Helen, navigating career, family and life can be challenging. You’ve done all of this, and indeed I know that you still do it. What advice do you have for those in this phase of life?
HP: I’ll give you a little bit of my background. I started my nursing career as an oncology nurse. I was working mainly night shifts, I love a bit of night shift. I had a daughter who was just not meeting her milestones, she was turning one and we’d been given a diagnosis that she had cerebral palsy or some form of acquired brain injury. When she was one, I stopped nursing completely. I’d already done half of my midwifery qualification at that stage and I’d also stopped that because it was all becoming too hard. I was looking after my daughter very much full time, but taking her to lots of appointments. Lots of physiotherapies and child stuff, it was a long time ago now. Thank goodness.
Then I went back and did my midwifery and decided that I wanted a complete change. I like to study. I like to change, but I’m also incredibly easily bored. So, I have had a lot of changes. 12 years ago, I mentioned that I was divorced. I ended up with somebody else, we’re now married. Joined the queer community, we’re now sharing four children in a queer household. So that was also a bit of a change for life. Now I’m back studying again, I’m enrolled in a masters of counselling and psychotherapy. I suppose my thing is, life changes. We have to roll with the punches. Go with the flow and do different things. Embrace change. Embrace different things in life. Don’t get bogged down in what you’re doing. Do something different. Nursing and midwifery is the perfect career for that, it’s so changeable. There’s so many different things that we can do. If you’re not able to walk well, you can work as a counsellor. There are lots of things that you can do, there’s just so much variety. That’s what I’m trying to say. Whether you’ve got kids or not or whatever stage of life you’re going through, there’s always something out there that you can do that’s midwifery or nursing related. If that’s what you want to do.
MA: Great advice, Helen. I think that’s the thing, isn’t it? Life can be very unpredictable and I think that this year, 2020, starting with the devastating bushfires in much of Australia. For many people throughout Australia, they’d already experienced a prolonged drought then finding ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic has meant that many of us have had to think differently about our life, career and how we navigate all of that. I think that’s all really great advice, thank you very much.
Sometimes we find ourselves at a career/life crossroad and don’t know the direction in which we should turn. Elle, how have you navigated these times in your career and life? What advice do you have for those at a career/life crossroad?
EB: Well, career/life crossroads happen. Sometimes you need to stop and take stock. You need to give yourself space to change. Taking leave and being kind to yourself is really really important. You can’t make rational, logical, good decisions if you’re in a stressed state of mind. Some transitions are way harder to navigate. Sometimes you have to jump and not know where you will land, or how it will all pan out. You will have your registration, you’ll have experience and presumably the means to get another job. When you jump, you have a trampoline beneath you. Lots of possibilities, always. You also have colleagues, peers, mentors, talk to them. They’re invaluable. They’re the reason that I’m in this job. They’re the reason that I was offered the opportunity for lots of jobs. It’s because of the networking with the people that you know and the people that you’ve worked with.
MA: Great points, Elle. I would add that our nursing and midwifery mates in there, they are the backbone and part of our support system. I think you shouldn’t underestimate the value of those friendships and relationships that we make in our career that help us through these really tough times. Or, these crossroad points in our career. So that’s really useful, thank you Ellie.
Students and graduates can find it difficult to work out the best career/life direction to take. For example, what university to attend? What hospital to apply at for your graduate year? What discipline to specialise in? Any other thing that they may need to reconsider, that may be challenging. Maddi, what advice do you have for students and graduates when making these really important decisions at the early part of their careers?
MM: I really resonate with this question because initially I didn’t know what path to take when I had to make that decision in grade 12. I actually wanted to do occupational therapy, believe it or not, but I had to travel too far to go to university to study and that was out of the picture for me. I think, one factor to consider when deciding what university to attend is distance and travel. Whatever you feel in your heart, your passion is. For me, that was nursing and that’s why I chose this career. I’m still a bit uncertain in terms of where I want to go, which discipline to specialise in. Like we’ve been saying, nursing can take you anywhere. You can travel with nursing, you can specialise in all different things. You can be on the admin side of it. The clinical side of it. You can take time off. Nursing is so multifaceted. As long as you study hard at school and have a vision and goals in regards to where you want to go, then I think that as an early career choice it will be a simple decision. Just putting yourself out there and speaking to people, speaking to mentors, anything that will inspire you. It’s totally up to you.
MA: Thanks Maddi. It’s really about creating a network, isn’t it? I know you’re very interested in technology. I know that students and graduates are excellent at accessing and utilising technology to get information and to have access to networks. How do you suggest that they do that in a professional way? You have to be careful, as well, that you don’t put inappropriate things on social media.
MM: I think that social media can have its ups and downs. I really like it in a professional way. Our generation, now, are glued to our phones. If we can utilise that in a way that’s going to enhance your life or enhance your career. Let’s face it, at universities now, it’s all technology. It’s all online, especially with this pandemic. Everything is Zoom conferences now. If you reach out via social media, I think it’s really got potential to transform health and nursing to create pathways for future projects. Even tele-health nursing and all these apps that you can utilise from a technological point of view. The hospitals electronic medical record systems, it’s all online now. Not many people know how to go back to paper. I think that technology is amazing now. We can reach out and communicate that way and still be in touch with one another.
MA: Thanks Maddi, I recently recorded a podcast with Athol Hann around burnout, so you can access that podcast on our website. Athol turned his experience of burnout into creating something positive to support nurses and midwives. It’s an app called FWARDS, so check that out. We’ll put a link to that as a part of this podcast. There’s also another great podcast that’s come out of New South Wales called Nurse Well. I’ve got that app on my phone and I really like it. We’ll put some of those links, as I said, on our website. Thanks very much Maddi. Helen, for the nurses and/or midwives listening to this podcast wondering who to access to work through decisions about career and life challenges, decisions and what to do next, what advice do you have for them in regards to how to go about this?
HP: I would always encourage them to give us a call. Nurse & Midwife Support is there for everyone in every stage of their career. From students, right through to senior staff, managers and for the people who love them. So friends and family who need a little support because their loved ones are nurses or midwives, they’re welcome to call us as well. There’s a lovely variety of staff who answer the phones. We’re all from very different backgrounds, we all come with different ideas and thoughts. We’re really really happy to have a chat. We don’t always have the answers, but sometimes our callers have their own answers. They really do know what they need to know. They know the answers to their problems. Sometimes they just need someone to help tease out the answers to their thoughts and help them weigh up a few options. I know that I’m employed by them, so I’m biased. But, yes, absolutely. Give us a call! It’s what we’re there for.
MA: Thanks Helen, I’d like to absolutely reiterate that. Terrific advice.
Elle, if I’m an end of career nurse or midwife listening to this podcast wondering how to make the final phase of my career as meaningful as possible, so I can finish on that career high note that we’ve already talked about, how do you suggest that I go about it?
EB: Ok, so if a part of that high note means that you’re going to change your job then think outside the box of what you’ve done previously. Turn it around and think of something that you’ve never explored before. Utilise your network and make sure that they know that you’re seeking change and that you’re talking about change. Look for work that aligns with your values. Be prepared to acquire new skills. Great employers make support and education a hallmark of their organisation. If there’s something that you’ve always wanted to explore, whether that be entrepreneurship, public health policy, politics, find the avenues towards your goals. Remember the skills that you’ve gained as a nurse and a midwife. Valuable, useful and definitely transferable. That’s the end of my sermon about careers.
MA: Thanks Elle, terrific advice. Well, I can’t believe we’ve come to the end of this podcast. We could talk about this really important and interesting topic all day. If you want more information, please check out our newsletter which is full of great blogs and resources that will support you as you navigate your career transitions and life phases. Final words of wisdom Maddi, we’ll start with you.
MM: I just wanted to say that it’s been a pleasure being on this podcast today. If anyone ever needs to talk, I’m happy to have a chat. You’re not alone. As early career nurses, it is hard being in the big wide world of nursing. There’s people from all walks of life. Like Mark said, visit Nurse & Midwife Support. We’re here to help.
MA: Thanks Maddi, that’s terrific advice. Helen, final words of wisdom from you?
HP: Life is short. Make sure you look after yourself and be happy with your choices.
MA: Thanks Helen, and Elle? Final word of wisdom?
EB: Just one word?
MA: You may have a word or a sentence or a few sentences as we end this podcast.
EB: Ok, I’m going to say, be optimistic. Look for the job that’s your dream job and you’ll find it. You’ll definitely find your place in the profession. Although we can say that navigating career transition is hard and there’s all these things to look out for, the nursing and midwifery professions are fantastic because they really do enable you to travel and be in different places, do different jobs and have a really enjoyable career.
MA: Thanks very much Elle. Well, thanks again to the three of you for being fantastic guests. We really appreciate your time, your insights and your wisdom. Your honesty in sharing this information. Thank you very much, a final word of wisdom from me is please look after yourselves and each other. Your health matters. I’ll speak to you next time.