By Louise Lommerse MACN Stage Four ACN Emerging Nurse Leader
Since 2017, I have been part of a volunteer organisation called Disaster Relief Australia (DRA). DRA is a veteran-led organisation that rapidly deploys disaster relief teams domestically and internationally. This organisation provides a purpose for veterans, emergency first responders, health professionals and civilians to serve and assist others in times of need. Since joining the organisation, I have deployed to such places such as Proserpine after Cyclone Debbie in 2017 and Lobethal and Cobargo after the Black Summer 2019/2020 bushfires that caused mass devastation to life, property and the natural environment.
As a member of DRA, I get to transfer my nursing organisational skills to the volunteer environment. I am usually found taking on a behind-the-scenes role during operations. As part of the Incident Management Team, I am in the forward operations base taking on the role of logistics officer, planning officer, safety officer, or medic (within my scope of practice of course!). The organisation, planning and logistical skills that I have developed working as a rural and now emergency nurse has been greatly beneficial to my role within DRA. The leadership skills I have learned during my time with DRA have easily transferred to my nursing practice and I feel that I am becoming a better nurse.
My interest in being a nurse leader has led to me to participate in the 2021 Emerging Nurse Leader program with the Australian College of Nursing and to undertake postgraduate studies in health leadership. As the clinical services associate with the organisation, I work in conjunction with our medical director to provide first aid for the volunteers. In the future, it is hoped that the organisation will take on a more disaster-related medical response and be able to work in conjunction with health services and organisations to assist those in need.
What I enjoy most about volunteering outside of nursing is the difference that we make to people and communities when they need us most. I may not be in the field getting dirty but the work I do behind the scenes is just as vital. Being a good listener is a quality that is important to have as a nurse but I have found it to be just as important as a volunteer.
During my time in Lobethal and Cobargo, I had the opportunity to sit with members of the local community. These people had just experienced an extremely traumatic event with most losing not only their houses but also their businesses, their pets in addition to experiencing the loss of friends, family and community members. The devastation to these regions was catastrophic and I felt at time that I was intruding in a place of mourning. However, providing a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen was encouraged and welcomed. It is also not just with those affected by disasters that need help. I have become more aware of the mental health concerns that affect veterans and front line emergency service workers and with this have spent hours sitting back listening to and debriefing with other DRA volunteers diagnosed with PTSD.
It is not all hard work though, there is fun and levity too! It is not every day you spend a week sleeping on camp beds in a school of arts hall with twenty other people. The cacophony of sounds that emit overnight is interesting to say the least. After a day of volunteering the group get together for communal meals, having chats into the wee hours, exploring the local area, and participating in local events like trivia nights. We support these communities not just through assisting them physically but by supporting local businesses.
I am privileged to be a member of an organisation such as Disaster Relief Australia. I was honoured to be recently awarded the National Emergency Medal for my contribution to the North Queensland communities during Tropical Cyclone Debbie in 2017. I didn’t join to gain accolades but I am glad to share this honour with other volunteers. Despite not having served with the Australian Defence Force I have found a home with other volunteers from all walks of life. The relationships I have made will be long lasting and I now count as friends ex Special Forces commandos, current serving army medics, an ex-plumber with no military background, and a retired school teacher with a passion for quilting. If you are interested in joining then please head on over to https://disasterreliefaus.org/ for more information.