Graduate nurse recognised as the state’s best at NSW Health awards

Published 27 April 2020
Sally Smith RN outside Tweed Hospital Sally Smith RN at the Tweed Hospital.

“In nursing, the small things you do can have such a big impact on people’s lives. It’s very rewarding - a very privileged position to be in.” These are the wise words of registered nurse and Southern Cross University graduate Sally Smith, winner of a NSW Health Excellence in Nursing and Midwifery Award.

Sally Smith Excellence in Nursing Midwifery Graduate winner with NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard and NSW Health secretary Elizabeth Koff
Sally Smith (centre) with NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard and NSW Health secretary Elizabeth Koff (credit: NSW Health).

“I was in shock when my name was called! I was so proud and honoured to have been recognised for my dedication to nursing. It was, and still is, the most significant moment in my nursing career. I felt that the hard work and sacrifice of study was all worth it,” Ms Smith said.

“It solidified my love of nursing and confirmed that I had definitely made the right career choice.”

Watch Sally Smith at the NSW Health Excellence in Nursing and Midwifery Awards event (Sally speaks at 1.37).

The impetus for Ms Smith’s award win in the ‘Excellence in Nursing/Midwifery – Graduate’ category was an employee culture improvement program she developed for her ward, Surgical 1, in her first year as a fully credential nurse as part of Tweed Hospital’s graduate program.

“The program was the Surgical 1 Superhero Awards. Every month we focused on different ‘superhero qualities’ such as ‘passionate’, ‘hardworking’, ‘reliable’ and so on,” said Ms Smith.

“We would then nominate someone who displayed that month’s quality – the most passionate nurse or the hardest worker, for example – and we would celebrate with an award presentation and dress-up day. It really gave us an opportunity to recognise and reward the strengths and dedication of other staff members.”

Since then, Ms Smith has secured a permanent role at Tweed Hospital in the Surgical 1 unit. The 30-bed ward is a very busy, task-oriented environment, where staff work on a rotating roster to cover 24hrs a day, 7 days a week.

“We deal with a lot of acute illnesses. We spend the day rushing around, so taking the time to acknowledge each other and the fact that we work really hard is really important to staff morale,” she said.

“Also, you spend a lot of time on the ward, sometimes more time that you do at home, so making the workplace the best it can be is important.”

Ms Smith had been an occupational health and safety officer in the mining industry in a remote part of Western Australia when she changed tack to pursue a career -- and sea -- change. She enrolled in the Bachelor of Nursing program at Southern Cross University’s Gold Coast campus (opposite North Kirra Beach) as a 37-year-old mature age student with two young boys aged six and seven.

“You had to be good at time management to get all the study done but the University offered a lot of flexibility. The fact that Southern Cross has a practical lab, to simulate a real-life environment, was invaluable. It really prepared you for the real world,” she said.

“And although at the time I didn’t really understand its importance, the fact that there was a lot of reflective practice involved in the degree was also very valuable. This became apparent later, as we regularly debrief now on the job at the Tweed Hospital.

“You get close to patients, their stories and situation. You have these really intense three to four days with the patient and then you send them on their way and you often think, ‘I wonder what happened with that person?’”

Southern Cross students are offered a number of placements in a variety of areas such as community nursing, medical nursing and mental health.

“It gave you an idea of where you wanted to be,” said Ms Smith.

“As part of the Bachelor of Nursing I did roughly 1000 hours of placement, over the three years. I spent most of my time at The Tweed Hospital.”

“While at Uni I learnt the enormous value of putting yourself forward and taking any opportunities that are presented to you. I worked hard and achieved a good GPA. The University’s Careers counselling team was amazing at preparing you for interviews.”

Southern Cross undergraduates from courses in the disciplines of Nursing, Rehabilitation, Business and Management have full-time employment rates greater than 80%. The Nursing result is particularly strong at 90% full-time employment compared with the sector average of 78%.

“Now through NSW Health I’m doing an Emerging Leaders Program and People Management Program; putting yourself out there and taking all opportunities is a great way to continue to expand your horizons, it’s just the best,” Ms Smith said.

As if she wasn’t busy enough, in her spare time Ms Smith patrols the beach as a surf lifesaver.

“I have to keep fit and healthy in order to continue giving.”

The University is joining with the World Health Organisation to celebrate 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and Midwife. Be inspired by more Southern Cross University nursing and midwifery stories.


Media contact: Sharlene King 0429 661 349 or