In October 2021, at the Australian College of Nursing’s (ACN) first-ever virtually held signature event, the National Nursing Forum (NNF), the Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care announced Sonia Martin MACN as the winner of the 2021 Health Minister’s Award for Nursing Trailblazers (Trailblazer Award).
Sonia was named the winner for providing equitable health care services to people experiencing poverty and homelessness through the service known as Sunny Street. We caught up with Sonia to talk about what this win means for her and the organisation.
How does it feel to have won the Trailblazer Award?
As the Health Minister said the words ‘and the winner is…’ I’m pretty sure at that stage I wasn’t breathing! I was absolutely stunned, and I had to try and contain my absolute surprise and gratitude. It is honestly a moment I shall never forget. I felt a massive sense of acknowledgement for my work in Sunny Street. I’m just so eternally grateful.
What have the reactions been to your win?
As I sat in my office while the winner was announced, I was fortunate to have the three nursing members of my HQ team by my side. I was telling a friend about how beautiful their support was in those moments, and she said to me ‘See! And still….nurses where you needed them’.
Those who have watched me work diligently, sacrifice and keep on going on the tough days were so excited that I had been formally recognised. I received so many messages from my teams as well as ACN members. Within a day, Sunshine Coast news groups had reported that a ‘local nurse had taken out a national award’.
It has been beautiful to have people I’ve never met know my story and congratulate me. It has been humbling and brought me to tears at times.
How will you leverage the award to further your work?
To expand nationally, we need support and funding. We need decisionmakers to understand the vision, see the impact we make every day sitting with someone in a gutter, a car park or a chair – whether it’s a man, woman or child – and help us replicate our services.
Every night we hesitate, someone on the streets decides not to seek health care, not get their medications, or is contemplating whether they should continue to live another day.
I know that I need to create or take up opportunities to advocate for vulnerable Australians, and for funding our conversation-based model of care. I’m very excited about the organisation shifting from being a health care service to an integral part of the Australian health care system.
Whose support would you like to acknowledge for this award?
I would like to thank the Federal Minister for Health and Aged Care, ACN CEO Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward FACN, and ACN for the recognition.
I would love to acknowledge my business partner and great mate, Dr Nova Evans for her ongoing support, pursuit & belief in our ideas. We have had so many ‘geronimo’ moments, so much courage, so much vulnerability!
A shoutout to our incredible HQ team – Tess, Prue, Kayla, Sue, Nat, Louise, Storm & Kristen – and our outreach nurses, doctors, paramedics, allied health members and community members. I’d love to thank Suzanne Volejnikova-Wenger MACN for her nomination and pursuit of making sure I looked up from my work, long enough to be recognised.
This award is wonderful recognition for the hard work, dedication, and positive impact that our teams have on every person they connect with. We know that every person matters, every conversation matters and that someone breathes a little easier or survives another day because of our teams out on the streets.
This is honestly one of the highlights of my nursing career.
Read Sonia’s interview on being nominated as Finalist for the Trailblazer Award.