By Jay Court MACN
- Being a new graduate in a pandemic
In February 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was unfolding, I was starting a new graduate transition program as a mental health nurse in an acute in-patient setting. My trepidation about caring for clients at their most vulnerable was magnified by my growing anxiety about the potential for a COVID-19 outbreak in the mental health facility, as had occurred with disastrous outcomes in South Korea. However, with the support of a mentor, clinical supervision and highly experienced mental health colleagues to guide me, I was able to gain invaluable experience during a difficult year.
As a mental health nurse, I was exposed to occupational hazards on a daily basis including verbal abuse, physical aggression, vicarious trauma and lateral violence. The effects of this physically exhausting and emotionally draining work were compounded by the impact of shift work. Given these stressors it’s little wonder that health care workers are at an increased risk of developing mental health conditions.
As the pandemic unfolded, new protocols were being implemented in the service every day. In the acute mental health in-patient setting, leave entitlements were removed meaning our clients could not leave the facility to take walks and for some this meant weeks on end without leaving the walls of a locked mental health facility. Visitors were limited and children under the age of 18 were no longer permitted to visit the unit. Understandably, many clients were frustrated by the restrictions and this in turn often made clients more difficult to manage.
I was able to process these challenging experiences through clinical supervision provided by my employer. It was in this context that I was encouraged to journal my experiences and to use reflective practice to make sense of confronting events in the clinical space. Supervision was a great opportunity to professionally and critically reflect and to learn in a formal, structured manner.
- My journey of nurse leadership
During this time, I was participating in the Australian College of Nursing’s (ACN) Emerging Nurse Leader (ENL) program which supports current and future nurse leaders to kick-start their leadership careers by providing access to mentoring, career coaching, professional development, webinars and leadership workshops.
Participating in the ENL program highlighted the value nurses contribute to the health sector both in patient care and in many other ways. I find nursing to be a humbling profession because every shift presents unique and unpredictable challenges that can be difficult to anticipate or prepare for. This dynamic environment and clients with very different needs often left me feeling under-equipped and at times I questioned my ability to have a therapeutic influence on my clients. However, the ENL program pushed me outside my comfort zone and encouraged me to back my clinical judgement. I was encouraged to pitch ideas for conference presentations, public speaking, and blog writing (like this!) and my previous article on the importance of communication as a foundational skill for nurses.
During my graduate program, I also had the opportunity to undertake a rotation in an acute care community mental health team. This gave me invaluable insights into how the public mental health care system interacts with primary care and privately practicing psychiatrists, psychologists, allied health and counsellors. I observed gaps in the system and unfortunately, barriers to appropriate and timely mental health care still exist for many individuals. When I saw a job advertised as Digital Mental Health Engagement lead with THIS WAY UP, a digital mental health treatment service, I was immediately intrigued. Having the leadership program behind me gave me the confidence to apply for the role and in October 2020, I joined the team at THIS WAY UP. THIS WAY UP was developed by the Clinical Research Unit for Anxiety and Depression (CRUfAD), a joint initiative between St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney and the University of NSW. In this role, I am learning how digital mental health can improve access to evidence-based mental health treatments. This will be the focus on my next article! In the meantime, check out www.thiswayup.org.au to explore our free online mental health and wellbeing resources to protect your mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jay Court MACN is the Digital Mental Health Engagement Lead at THIS WAY UP and an ACN Emerging Nurse Leader program alumni. She has a background in mental health nursing and is passionate about supporting the mental health of the health workforce. You can read more NurseClick articles written by Jay here.