The only certainty in life is change

By Sarah McFadyen

In this series, ACMHN members talk about their passion for mental health nursing and how they have grown professionally. In this story, Sarah McFadyen discusses realising her dream of becoming a nurse after working in finance, the support mental health nurses provide each other, and her professional goals for 2022.

When I decided to become a nurse, I had worked in finance for years. I had always wanted to be a nurse and initially thought of becoming a defence force nurse as I was always fascinated with how people worked, and enjoyed talking with people. After discussing what field of nursing I wanted to work in at an open day, I decided to enrol in a bachelor of nursing specialising in mental health. This allowed me to complete a majority of my nursing placement hours in a variety of mental health settings.

Since graduating, I have worked in a variety of mental health settings from inpatient units to community teams and emergency mental health. Each setting has offered different rewards and challenges, but one constant has been the comradery that comes from colleagues. Also, the knowledge that each shift brings a chance to be a part of someone’s mental health journey is often what can help through the periods of burnout and fatigue. On multiple occasions consumers remember me from previous engagements and that rapport from knowing whether they prefer tea or coffee and how many sugars is something that may seem insignificant, but its impact cannot be underestimated.

Whilst there have been many highs there have also been a few lows. Being injured whilst working and managing how I am changing as an individual and how this reflects in my practice has been difficult. I see mental health nurses struggling through lockdowns, dealing with the pressure of increased demand, and the basic fact that as humans we go through personal challenges. A silver lining of this has been that we are now talking more and more about our own mental health and the need for self-care. I am lucky I am surrounded by friends that are also mental health nurses. The ability to call someone who understands the nuances of the profession through the highs and lows has been something I have valued and treasured. You often form lifelong friendships as a graduate nurse, and I have been lucky that this has been ongoing for me. I also have valued and benefited from clinical supervision and feel this has added to my practice.

2022 has seen another career change for me as I move into the world of academia in a lecturing role, teaching undergraduate and postgraduate mental health nursing for a major university. I maintain my clinical practice because for me to teach the ‘next generation of nurses’, I need to maintain my clinical exposure and experience. This new role also allows me to go after my next major goal, completing a PhD looking at the impact of vicarious trauma in mental health nurses.

I hope to also look into the area of neurodiversity in public mainstream mental health settings and LGBTIQA+ issues within mental health. I have been fortunate enough to attend working groups and speak in federal parliamentary hearings and the need for more research and education in adolescent mental health for LGBTIQA+ youth is something I hope to see the industry expand on. 


Australian College of Mental Health Nurses membership, mental health career change, mental health nursing career, neurodiversity

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