Prestigious award puts a smile on Donna’s face

Published 20 September 2008

Donna Franklin spends her spare time helping put a smile on the faces of underprivileged children but winning a prestigious award from Southern Cross University has put a smile on her face.

Donna, from the Brisbane suburb of Moorooka, was announced the winner of the coveted Outstanding Alumnus of the Year 2008 award, at a graduation ceremony at Southern Cross University’s Lismore campus today, Saturday, September 20.

A dedicated nursing professional, nurse unit manager of the paediatric intensive care unit at the Mater Children’s Hospital in Brisbane, and graduate of the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, Donna’s holidays are generally spent working as a volunteer, assisting in life-changing surgery for children in under-developed countries.

Donna has completed 16 ‘Operation Smile’ missions to Morocco, China, Russia, the Philippines, Jordan, Vietnam, Bolivia, Madagascar, Ethiopia and Kenya over the past eight years.

Operation Smile assembles teams of volunteer medical professionals to provide free surgery to children in under-developed countries with the mantra of creating smiles, changing lives and healing humanity.

During her grueling 12-14-day missions, she either works in recovery or more commonly as a clinical coordinator, running the busy surgical program for the team of plastic surgeons, anaesthetists and other allied health team members who work collaboratively to correct facial deformities (mostly cleft palates and cleft lips) for as many as 100-280 children.

That Donna was able to combine this voluntary work with two years of compressed MBA study at the University’s Tweed Gold Coast campus, while also juggling full-time work and managing some 90 nurses, is a testament to her dedication and commitment, not to mention her boundless energy.

Her inspiring achievements won her the Graduate College of Management 2008 Alumnus of the Year Award, putting her in the running to be chosen as the overall winner.

“My study demanded true and utter discipline but I really wanted to do a Masters, something more substantial that would have applications in the professional and possibly philanthropic world,” she said.

“I’m already applying the skills that I have learnt through the organisational behaviour and people management units. I’m managing nurses, doctors, families and children every day, but the MBA is so broad that I can use it in so many other areas. Whether it’s during my missions or my personal life, those leadership skills are useful wherever I go.”

Donna said her professional role at the Mater Children’s Hospital was exciting and challenging.

“It is incredibly full every single day with high activity and turn-over of critically ill paediatric patients from all over south east Queensland and northern NSW,” Donna said.

She leads a team of 90 registered nurses and has recently been a lead player in the merger of the paediatric cardiac services at the Prince Charles Hospital with the Mater Children’s Hospital.

“This was a huge task and had to take into consideration building works and massive renovations, while still continuing the care of critically ill children in the same intensive care unit (ICU) environment, and at the same time developing and seeing through plans to merge two vastly different cultures,” she said.

“The merging of staff and the gamut of emotions and human resources issues that go along with this important factor was not an easy task, and needed great concentration on the human factor and looking after the real needs of the staff and the effects of changing environments and models of care.”

Donna also manages the nursing team for the retrieval service which is run directly from the ICU and transfers over 250 critically ill children from Queensland and northern NSW to the Mater Children’s Hospital each year, via fixed wing aircraft, rotary aircraft and road.

As demanding and satisfying as this work is, Donna also gains profound joy from her volunteering work overseas.

“In many overseas communities children with facial deformities are shunned by society. Surgery can change their appearance, speech and ultimately the way they interact and are accepted into their community. It is often life-changing for them,” Donna said.

“Our surgical teams are completely self-sufficient. We fly in with all the equipment we need and might set up six to eight operating theatres in the local hospital. I’ve made friends the world over and always return from my missions reinvigorated and full of stories.

“Wherever you are, you immerse yourself in the culture and learn about what life is truly like for these people in their communities.

“It’s my way of seeing the world, in its reality, rather than as a tourist. You develop a much greater appreciation of life; that’s the best part for me. It always puts my own life in perspective and makes me realise that I don’t need all that I have. It is a humbling experience and makes me very grateful for the life I have in Australia and the family and friends that I share my life with.”

Winning the Outstanding Alumnus Award has been an immensely gratifying experience for Donna: “It has come out of the blue, and was never in a million years expected. The smile on my face said it all when I received the wonderful news.

“As individuals, we all work at living life in varying ways, and we all strive to be the best that we can.

“I believe that there is a lot more in this world that I can achieve and improve upon, and this award has made me feel secure in the knowledge that what I have been achieving within both my academic life, my work life, my volunteering life and my family life has been more than worth it.

“I’m a person who never really believes that I have done enough, or improved enough or given enough, but this award represents to me that I am actually performing and improving, which enables me to want to push further forward in all aspects of life.

“I am incredibly thankful and overwhelmed for this recognition and being chosen as the overall alumnus winner for Southern Cross University.”

The 2008 Alumnus of the Year Award winners for other participating Schools are:

• Damian Hackett, Bachelor of Visual Arts (1990); School of Arts & Social Sciences.

Damian is a partner in Deutscher and Hackett, a leading fine art auction house. He is a leader in his field and his innovative and creative approach to fine arts management has seen him take three different companies to a point where they have become highly competitive against their two well known overseas rivals, Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

• Melissa Mallam, Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Human Movement Science (2004);
School of Law & Justice.

Mel has recently moved to Switzerland to take up a leading sports law position as in-house counsel with the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), in Zurich. Prior to that she was the first ever in-house counsel for Touch Football Australia.

• Karen Mow, Diploma of Teaching, Northern Rivers College of Advanced Education (NRCAE, 1987); School of Commerce and Management.

Karen is executive manager of the Institute for Applied Ecology at the University of Canberra. She is recognised for her national level leadership and innovation in relation to research management and performance in the higher education sector. She has previously been the assistant director of programs for the Australian Research Council, managing over $120 million per annum in application-based research funding.

• Nadine Smith, Bachelor of Business in Tourism Management (Honours, 2006); School of Tourism and Hospitality Management.

Nadine has established the Creative People’s Collective in Lismore, a non-profit organisation started with a $200,000 government grant, which facilitates artistic and dance projects for youth in the Northern Rivers, helping young people build capacity and strength by harnessing their energy and enthusiasm through the arts.

Photo: Donna Franklin with a young patient from East Timor during a recent ‘Operation Smile’ mission.

Media contact: Zoe Satherley Southern Cross University media officer, 6620 3144, 0439 132 095.