With a right arm that ends at the elbow, Jessica Stevens-Farmer wondered whether she could achieve her ambition to become a nurse. Though thriving in her Bachelor of Nursing degree at Southern Cross University, she worried the more technical functions required in nursing might be beyond her.
“My right arm stopped growing in the womb. While I am regarded as differently abled, it has always been natural to me. I have always adapted to needs and circumstances,” said Jess.
“However, when my degree reached the stage of working with catheters, injections, cannulas and the like, I struggled with the precision required. These processes are technical even with two hands, let alone just one. You are also using sterile gloves and managing sterile fields, which demand the utmost care.
“I was determined to try my best, but also prepared for nursing to not pan out for me. I am so glad there were people there to support me.”
Today (May 12) is International Nurses Day and Jess’s story is one that pays tribute to her determination and the support she found in nursing education and the profession.
To help Jess, Southern Cross University nursing lecturer Donna Wilson facilitated mentoring from NSW Health nurse Charlotte Shelton. Charlotte shares the same congenital disorder – albeit on her left arm – and was able to provide invaluable guidance and confidence.
“Charlotte could show me how she dealt with the most technical procedures,” said Jess. “Sometimes it was as simple as using her shorter arm as a rest or to hold things still. It was all about learning and practising.”
Jess has an IT degree from Griffith University, but chose not to follow that career pathway. Finding employment in the aged care sector, her affinity for nursing became quickly evident.
“I was working as Assistant in Nursing (AIN) in an aged care facility on the Gold Coast and really enjoyed it,” she said. “I was helping people and I felt needed. My partner Aidan, who is also an AIN, suggested I pursue nursing as a career and it was like a light bulb moment.”
Jess will graduate at the end of this year and hopes to become a General Practice nurse.
“Studying at Southern Cross University has been great. It is a more personal and accessible kind of study and the placements have been really informative. The mentoring program was especially helpful. For any student needing support as they go through their degree, having a mentor or your side is such a benefit.”
Like Jess, Charlotte has never felt differently abled.
“Throughout my life, it’s the last thing I think about,” she said. “I was always able to work out ways to manage tasks and later that extended into nursing.
“Plus, I had great teachers and strategies, and I put in the time to be the best nurse I could be. Nursing is a team sport and you need to be adept and adaptable. That is one of the lessons I talked about to Jess.”
Charlotte studied a Bachelor of Nursing at Southern Cross University and completed her graduate year at Tweed Hospital. Now based at Byron Central Hospital, she is working as an Emergency Nurse.
The good news is that other nursing students will soon benefit from Charlotte’s experience when she joins Southern Cross University as a Clinical Teacher supervising students on clinical placement, and as a Clinical Tutor teaching in the nursing labs.
Learn more about studying Nursing at Southern Cross University.