When Southern Cross University nursing students volunteered at the Lismore flood evacuation centre, many expected to be applying wound dressings. Instead the greatest need they encountered was emotional support.
More than 30 Southern Cross nursing students and academics worked at the evacuation centre, based at the University’s Lismore campus, in the days following the unprecedented natural disaster that hit the Northern Rivers region on February 28.
Today on International Nurses Day (May 12), Professor Jennene Greenhill, the University’s Chair of Nursing, acknowledged the efforts of her students and staff who belong to a profession that provides physical and emotional support when we are ill or traumatised.
“The theme of International Nurses Day is celebrating leadership,” said Professor Greenhill.
“What I witnessed during the floods is that leadership is at all levels of nursing and it’s all about rolling your sleeves up and harnessing community collaboration. Our staff and students made a real difference. They stepped up when they were most needed and together learnt so much.”
Third year students Bronwyn Hausler and Melissa Allen travelled from the Gold Coast. The experience opened their eyes to working on the frontline of a natural disaster.
“The expectation I had was in using my nursing skills, like wound dressing and administering medication. But the reality on the ground was that it was far more a social and safety issue for the evacuees. I adapted quickly,” said Bronwyn.
“People just needed to talk about how they literally survived. I had to change tack and pace to let people share their stories. These brave people needed us to listen to them and provide support.”
“It was different type of nursing. We were there for people to talk to. We were go-to people. We took people to the first aid, directing them where to get a meal, arranging lifts to a pharmacy to get medications. It was an all-round support role. It was a case of get your hands dirty and do what needs to be done,” said Melissa.
“We met some great role models and leaders – our University lecturers who were helping us, volunteering too. It was good to see them in another role. We learnt a lot from them. We thanked them for their leadership and the support and guidance they’d given us.”
Other nursing students at the evacuation centre, like Angelina Li, Millie Clark and Monique Ryan, all in second year, briefed evacuees about COVID symptoms. At the same time they handed out homemade biscuits to keep spirits up.
Angelina Li (left), Millie Clark and Monique Ryan, all second year nursing students, provided evacuees with important health messages.
Bronwyn and Melissa felt compelled to do more to help once they returned home. They organised a fundraising morning tea at their workplace, a day surgery on the Gold Coast where both are perioperative nurses.
The pair raised $515 to go towards buying new clinical placement uniforms for their fellow nursing students who’d lost theirs in the floods.
“Seeing our University in Lismore transformed into a mini city was amazing,” said Melissa.
“We felt really proud to be part of the Southern Cross University community. That’s one thing I’ve expressed to my friends who are teachers or people at my workplace; telling them how amazing it is to see our University transform and to help to many people.
“Obviously there’s a long way to go for people who’ve lost everything and your heart goes out. If we were asked to do it again, we would.”
International Nurses Day is celebrated on 12 May each year, the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth in 1820. She is considered the mother of modern nursing.
“I’m so proud of our profession, especially over the past couple of years we’ve been in the spotlight more than ever before dealing with the COVID pandemic,” said Bronwyn who, in conjunction with her University studies, is completing the Australian College of Nursing’s emerging nurse leader program.
“I’m very proud to call myself a nurse.”
At the centre of the University’s Nurses Day celebration this year was a sausage sizzle generously supplied by Bunnings Lismore, a business also impacted by the floods, with the support of Bunnings Ballina.
“Many thanks to Bunnings for helping us to celebrate this year’s International Nurses Day through collective leadership,” Professor Greenhill said.
Vice Chancellor Professor Tyrone Carlin and Professor Jennene Greenhill with the Bunnings team: Amber, Mehar and Gavin.
Media contact: Sharlene King, media office at Southern Cross University 0429 661 349 or firstname.lastname@example.org