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Sport, Health & Wellbeing

FUTURE BRIGHT: Nursing in the age of a pandemic

Future Bright panellist Karen Strickland explains the changes COVID-19 has made to the nursing industry.

Since moving to Australia three years ago – literally to the day! – Karen Strickland’s passion for clinical research and its link to nursing continues to grow.

The Professor of Nursing, and Head of the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Public Health at the University of Canberra is herself a  Registered Nurse.

She moved into higher education in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the late 90s, working as a Lecturer in Cancer and Palliative Care at universities in Scotland before becoming the Associate Head at the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Robert Gordon University.

In 2017, without ever having visited Australia, Karen accepted a role as Clinical Professor of Nursing at the University of Canberra.

“After accepting the role, I came over to visit Canberra in July of 2017,” Karen says.

“It was raining, and it was the school holidays – so nobody was around. It was a ghost town. I thought: what have I gotten myself into?”

“The next day the sun came out, and the people came out, and I soon realised what a beautiful place it was – and I’ve never looked back since!”

Karen quickly moved into her role as Head of School and is grateful for the team she gets to work with each day.

“It’s a great team – a really lovely group of people who are genuinely passionate about nursing, midwifery, and education research,” Karen says.

The passion of her team is in line with that of all nurses, Karen says.

The World Health Organisation declared 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, intended to recognise the contribution nurses and midwives make to the community.

But we all know what happened in March – COVID-19 – and suddenly any hint of celebration for the industry was put by the wayside.

“Even though all our celebrations were put on hold, I think COVID-19 has really raised the profiles of nurses and midwives and the contributions they make to frontline healthcare,” Karen says.

“We’ve been at the forefront of infection control, leading the coronavirus response, and are actually face-to-face with people affected by COVID-19 – whether that’s actually facing the serious symptoms and consequences of having COVID-19, contact tracing, or working at the walk-in testing centres.”

And although times have been tough, Karen says that nurses have really proven themselves and their worth to their communities this year.

“What you find in situations like this is that nurses really rally around and they’re part of the solution,” she says.

“Nurses do well in a crisis – it’s what we’re trained for. We’re trained in emergency management.”

Karen believes that the COVID-19 pandemic will change nursing forever.

“It’s certainly made healthcare more accessible through some of the telehealth options now available to us. We’ve seen projects related to telehealth where normal approval processes can be very slow, but COVID-19 has required rapid change and allowed us to adapt and learn how we can make healthcare more accessible through technology,” she says.

Overall, Karen is optimistic about the future of nursing – and is confident that nurses (and aspiring nurses) will continue to make a positive contribution to society as a whole.

“It’s been a really challenging year, but we have learned a lot and created a lot of opportunities,” she says.

“It’s really raised the profile of how nurses and midwives contribute very positively to health and wellbeing, and we’ve continued to educate the next generation of nurses throughout this time – so I really do think our future is bright.”

Words by Elly Mackay. Photos by Madeleine Wood.

This year, UC is celebrating our 30th anniversary as a university.

Join comedian and TV personality Wil Anderson as he hosts UC’s 30th anniversary celebration with the virtual UnCover event Future Bright Facebook Live on Friday 6 November from 7.30pm. RSVP here.

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