Courage with compassion: Why our nurses are at the heart of everything we do

Courage with compassion: Why our nurses are at the heart of everything we do

From caring for our aged care clients and leading rehabilitation programs, to saving people who have overdosed from drugs, nurses are the backbone of many Uniting services.

Nurses are an integral part of Uniting and always have been. Almost 100 years ago, the War Memorial hospital opened its doors with a nursing team of just six who went on to deliver 3000 babies and care for 10 thousand patients in the first eight years of service. During WWII, 18 of the hospital’s nurses joined the Australian Army Nursing Service and Sisters Winnie May Davis and Florence Salmon sacrificed their lives for their country.

Two nurses are pictured each holding a baby and standing among a row of cots in a 1950s hospital nursery

The nursery at Unitng War Memorial Hospital in the 1950s.

Fast forward through a century of service and Uniting nurses continue to offer inspired care at Uniting aged care homes and in home and community care, work with rehabilitation patients at Uniting War Memorial Hospital and save lives at the Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre.

Nurses such as Margaret White – who has worked at Uniting Wontama in Orange for over 35 years – and Maryam Parvizi – who has worked at Uniting Mirinjani for 20 years after immigrating to Australia from Iran – speak of the strong bonds with residents who have become like family.

Another of our long-serving nurses, Marguerite White, has been with the Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC) since it first opened its doors in 2001 and is the longest-serving nurse in an injecting facility anywhere in the world.

Marguerite – a Clinical Nurse Specialist – tells us what drives her to keep on giving.

The Incomparable Marguerite

After witnessing the devastating effects of heroin as it destroyed lives during the 1990s, Marguerite knew she wanted to channel her commitment to “holistic health care” into harm minimisation for people who use drugs.

Marguerite White stands facing the camera and smiling. A generous welcoming woman, she has dyed her hair bright blue - because, why not.

Marguerite White, Clinical Nurse Specialist at the Uniting Medically Supervised Injecting Center.

“I had been following the arguments for a safe injecting centre and applied for a nursing job when the opportunity finally arrived,” Marguerite remembers. “I have been working at MSIC ever since.”

Changing and saving lives

“I work as a Harm Reduction Nurse. That’s part of an international movement of nurses who are working to reduce harms associated with drug use. Recently some of my colleagues have been active at the 2019 International Harm Reduction Conference in Portugal. This means our work is on the global stage.”

During her time with the service, Marguerite has seen literally thousands of people registered at Uniting MSIC – many of whom have gone on to accept referrals for drug treatment programs thanks, in part, to the compassionate response they’re met with.

“I have been very fortunate to have this job. We have a service that is a welcoming place,” she says. “This can be weird for new clients to feel acceptance and welcome, but it’s usually gratefully accepted.

“Fortunately, people at high risk of overdose make the choice to come to this service. They may be just out of gaol, rehab or have not used for a long spell. They are welcomed.  Maybe this choice has saved their life today. And we can give them that positive feedback.

“You can call it a therapeutic relationship if you wish. To me, it says – very simply – ‘You matter.’”

Treating people as people

We asked Marguerite if there is a particular memory that stuck with her from her time at Uniting MSIC – and her reply speaks to the very heart of what makes the service so successful: treating people who use drugs as people.

“One very early memory that comes to mind – strangely – is that of assisting a man who was incredibly distressed,” Marguerite remembers. “His behaviour was quite bizarre and a bit menacing.  His main complaint was that he was very, very itchy.

“I improvised with some cloths so that he could rub his back providing some relief. When he returned a couple of days later, his acute distress had resolved and he had come back to the service to thank me.

“It had been just a brief encounter and a novel solution, but the point of the tale is that even small actions can mean a lot to someone amongst all the chaos… I also thought I was a bit brave.”

Celebrating our nurses on International Nurses Day

International Nurses Day has been celebrated around the world since 1965 on the day that marks the birthday of Florence Nightingale. It is an opportunity to recognise the critical contribution that our nurses play in the care, health and wellbeing of our resident and clients.

“On behalf of everyone at Uniting, I would like to say a huge thank you to all our nurses for the expertise and compassion you bring to the care we offer people and communities,” says Uniting Executive Director, Tracey Burton. “Every day you are changing lives and often saving lives.

“We know that the work you do is challenging and International Nurses Day is our opportunity to tell you how much you are valued by your colleagues, clients, residents and the wider community.

For Marguerite, International Nurses Day is a chance to celebrate the many different kinds of nurses who dedicate their life to health care.

“It’s pretty special to have a day that honours our profession. Of course, MSIC nurses will be working as usual on International Nurses Day. Let’s hope there’s some cake!”

Marguerite’s ability to put herself in the clients’ shoes and strive for their best care, coupled with her insatiable desire for learning and development, is a big part of what makes her worthy of celebrating on International Nurses Day and every day.

Join us in celebrating all of our Uniting nurses this International Nurses Day.

Get in touch

Uniting is currently looking for nurses to join our team in residential aged care. Visit our careers page to find out more.

See careers at Uniting


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