Supporting mental health nurses

By Kate Currey

In this series, ACMHN members talk about their passion for mental health nursing and how they have grown professionally. In this story, Kate Currey discusses how her love of mental health nursing quickly developed and a couple of challenges she’s faced along the way.

When I started my undergraduate nursing degree, I’ll be honest that I had no ambitions of becoming a mental health nurse (MHN). I remember that when it was time for my first mental health placement, my group’s learning facilitator said to us all, “Look, you won’t like this. Nobody goes into nursing to get into mental health. But you’ve got to do it.” So, clearly, this didn’t inspire me. However, throughout my placement in the inpatient unit at what was then the Mater Children’s Hospital Mental Health Unit, I saw the amazing work of the MHNs there and knew I wanted to be like them. What also drew me in was the ability to look holistically at consumers and their families or supporters, and really it was the ability to be more ‘human’ with others compared to the type of nursing I was exposed to in medical-surgical environments.

After graduating from my undergraduate degree, I was upset that I missed out on a graduate program placement in mental health, but I was offered a placement at a tertiary hospital in a medical-surgical graduate program. I continued working at this hospital in the cardiac ward for another year, and during this time started studying a graduate certificate of clinical education and teaching after discovering a passion for supporting and educating the undergraduate students who came to the ward for placements. After this time, I was successful in applying to a transition to the mental health program at Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital (now Queensland Children’s Hospital). During this program I worked for six months in both the adolescent ward and the child ward, which is where I remained employed after completing the transition program. As I knew I wanted to learn more about MHN I began my masters of mental health nursing.

After working in the child mental health ward, I was successful in applying for a job with the Northern NSW Local Health District’s Got It! team, which provides a specialist early intervention service for children and their families in primary school settings. I spent three years working in this team and enjoyed my time immensely, despite the most recent challenges that COVID-19 provided. During this period, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend short periods in a Clinical Nurse Educator role, which reminded me of my enthusiasm for nursing education. It was also while working in the Got It! team that I (finally) graduated from both my graduate certificate of clinical education and teaching, and masters of mental health nursing.

Most recently I have started working in a conjoint role with Southern Cross University and Northern NSW Local Health District at Lismore as a MHN lecturer and nurse educator. This role is the culmination of my work and study and I am keen to keep supporting other MHNs complete further education and improve their knowledge and skills, which I know will ultimately improve the experience of mental health consumers across Australia.

Reflecting on my career so far, the biggest obstacle I have faced is probably my age and ambition to continue studying and work in different areas. At times other MHNs or other health care workers have told me that I do not hold certain skills or appreciate this profession because I am younger than them. However, I know I do have a level of knowledge not just because of my study, but also from my work experience, reflection and drive to continue improving my practice, and knowledge base. I am also aware that I would not be where I am now in my career without the support and inspiration from all of the highly skilled MHNs I have been lucky enough to work with in the past.

TAGS   Australian College of Mental Health Nurses membership, mental health nursing, mental health nursing placements