Photo credit: Northern Sydney Local Health District
As Australia prepared to shut down for the Christmas holidays, nurses and health professionals in the Northern Beaches region of Sydney raced to fight a rapidly spreading outbreak of COVID-19. To acknowledge their incredible efforts and sacrifice, we share the experiences of three Northern Beaches nurses from Northern Sydney Local Health District, our valued platinum affiliate partner, which highlight what it was like to work on the frontline over the Christmas holiday period.
- Nurses supporting nurses: Teamwork on the frontline
Each of the three nurses shared their appreciation and thanks for the support their team members provided to help them overcome the challenges associated with the rapid increase in demand for COVID-19 testing in the area.
“Most of us significantly extended our hours, including managers, admin and the nursing staff,” said Jasmine Couvret, an Assistant in Nursing at the Mona Vale and Brookvale COVID-19 testing clinics.
“During the lead up to Christmas, staff were virtually going home just to sleep, wake up and continue as though the day had not ended. Fortunately, many of us had already experienced sudden changes in testing demand at other times in 2020. I don’t think the demand would have been manageable without such a beautiful team; I feel very lucky.”
Tom Fitzsimmons, the Nurse Manager at the Brookvale Testing Clinic, echoed these sentiments.
“The rapid increase in demand was a challenging situation as we saw a four/five-fold increase in testing numbers,” he said.
“Given our clinic is relatively small, the increased demand required adaptation to enable more registration and swab stations. Long hours and extended days were both physically and mentally demanding, however, our amazing clinic staff and volunteers pulled together and pushed themselves to ensure we were able to meet community expectations.”
“We had an incredible team spirit, with team members turning up even on their days off to deliver food and coffee and keep our team fed and upbeat.”
For Pam Sessions MACN, a Registered Nurse at the Mona Vale and Brookvale Clinics, the team spirit was especially prevalent in the nurses who spent their Christmas and New Year’s Day swabbing patients.
“There was a sense of camaraderie amongst the staff who worked these days,” she said.
“I believe we were fulfilling a community need, and although I would have rather spent these days at home with my immediate family, I felt I was undertaking a needed role.”
“On Christmas Day, staff brought special food to share. Due to work demands, we didn’t get to eat together, but this added to the sense of camaraderie.”
Northern Beaches community rises to the ‘test’
The trio also praised the actions of their local community when coming forward for testing, noting the many sacrifices they undertook to protect their fellow community members during the lockdown.
“Some days we saw people who waited hours in the heat, or had to cancel their weddings, or could no longer visit an elderly or sick family member,” Jasmine said.
“Many people in situations like these still thanked us for our work or told us we were doing a good job. It surprised a lot of us how nice people could still be after waiting so long. Some people from the community even had food delivered to us.”
Tom shared a similar story from the Brookvale Clinic.
“The Northern Beaches community turned up in such large numbers, everyone doing their bit in trying to contain the outbreak,” he said.
“They gave thanks to our team for working hard during such a stressful time; even after waiting four to six hours for a swab!”
“The greater community response was also really heart-warming, with our local council staff donating their Christmas hampers to our clinic staff to thank us, and one of our local restaurants delivering lunch to our staff on Christmas Day.”
Many people donated food to COVID clinics, and this added a festive air to our tearoom,” Pam added.
“The clinic was moderately busy on Christmas day and the patients who presented were mindful that we, the staff, were working instead of being with family or friends. Many people expressed their gratitude that a service was being provided.”
Proud to be nurses
Despite the challenges, all three Northern Beaches nurses highlighted how the experience made them feel proud to be a member of the nursing profession.
“Working in the clinic made me realise that anything that seemed impossible can be manageable if you have the right team,” Jasmine said.
“I remember coming in to work one day with hundreds of people lining up around the building. The wait was roughly five hours. When I entered, with all the staff trying to do everything they could to get through the line, the first thing that my manager and other co-workers asked was how I was, or if I needed anything.”
For Tom, the situation highlighted how just how adaptable nurses can be.
“It made me feel incredibly privileged and thankful that we were in such a position of trust in the Northern Beaches community,” he said.
“In addition, during this time NSW Health has taken on people into admin positions from varied other fields (IT, business, customer service and travel industries) who have been an absolute credit and blessing to our team bringing their experience and personality. It has shown how amazingly adaptive and flexible nursing is.”
Pam ended with sharing how her role as a role allowed her to change and transform lives.
“I always feel proud to be a nurse and am proud to be working at a COVID clinic,” she said.
“We deal with people who sometimes present with anxiety, both with having the test and with the potential outcome. Being able to assist patients to alleviate their anxiety is a privilege.”
The Australian College of Nursing would like to thank Jasmine, Tom and Pam for sharing their experiences and Northern Sydney Local Health District for their assistance with this article.