College of Healthcare Sciences
10 May 2023
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Never too late to make a change
Shannon Wellings thought teaching was the career for her, having worked as a special needs teacher aide for 10 years, and studying an education degree. But after realising that providing her students with health care truly sparked her passion, Shannon turned to nursing. Now in her third year of study at JCU, Shannon is proving that it’s never too late to start something new.
Working as a teacher aide, studying education and raising two kids, Shannon was walking a clear path — or so she thought. “I got into teaching because I like sitting with others and helping them. In my role as a special needs teacher aide, I was performing a lot of health care support — things like peg feeding, tracheostomy care and seizure management.
“I realised that I enjoyed the health care aspect of the job more than I did the teaching. So, I decided to jump headfirst into nursing and I haven’t looked back.”
Now in her third year of study within JCU’s Bachelor of Nursing Science [Pre-Registration], Shannon has completed placements at a rural clinic in Charters Towers, an aged care facility in Townsville, and Surgical Ward 2 and the Acute Mental Health Unit in the Townsville University Hospital (TUH).
“I’m currently working in Medical Ward 5 at the TUH, which mainly involves supporting elderly patients. As a student nurse, my role mainly assists with daily living activities, such as helping patients with meals and hygiene. It also involves engaging the patients — even just having a friendly chat. If they have a photo album beside their bed, I’ll sit down with them and we’ll look through it together while I just listen.
“Of course, I still run around answering buzzers and doing health care procedures, but as a nurse, you commit to every part of the role. At the end of the day, these people are in a position where they really need help, and we’re there to provide it — whatever that may look like.”
"Our Nurses. Our Future."
Reflecting on the theme for International Nurses Day (12 May), “Our Nurses. Our Future.”, Shannon says ongoing support is the key to providing future nurses with a strong foundation for their careers.
In March this year, Shannon had the opportunity to attend The Townsville Bulletin’s ‘Future Townsville’ seminar with a small group of JCU students to hear about the future of health care in Townsville. The seminar’s speakers included the Queensland Minister for Health Yvette D’ath and a panel of experts including the TUH’s CEO and keynote speaker Bernard Salt.
“It was continually mentioned that we’re on the cusp of a large portion of the population reaching their 80s, which puts the health system on the brink of being completely overwhelmed. Nurses, as the frontline workers, need greater support in order to provide quality care for those patients.”
After transitioning into nursing as a mature-aged student and experiencing the unexpected parts of nursing, Shannon says greater awareness of the profession’s demands can spark further support.
“The more education there is around what nursing truly involves — such as the diversity and intensity of the work — the more support nurses will receive. Nursing is not just doing what a doctor tells you. It’s a profession in its own right. You must anticipate the needs of your patient and provide health care long before the doctor walks into the room. It requires critical thinking, a high level of health and medical knowledge, and confidence.”
Shannon says she has received a lot of support since the beginning of her nursing career. “I’ve always found JCU really supportive. We have small class sizes, so, even though there are quite a lot of people on-campus, you never feel like you get lost in the system. Even the lecturers learn your name really quickly.
“I’ve utilised the resources on offer as well, such as attending short courses and using the counselling services. Even though there have been stressful times, such as during exam periods, I have had some amazing mentors, teachers, lecturers and friends that have made me feel really supported.”
Building a foundation for the future
Providing patient-centred care is the most important part of the job for Shannon. Giving her patients the best support possible is Shannon’s main priority as she learns the ins and outs of nursing.
“The great thing about being a student nurse is that you can take your time,” she says. “I can really get to the bottom of what the patient is experiencing or dealing with. I can check in on their wellbeing holistically rather than just walking in to conduct basic health checks and walking back out.”
As she approaches the finish line of her degree, Shannon is committed to fulfilling her nursing role to the best of her ability. “I worked as a teacher aide for 10 years and I was really good at it. So, starting over again and feeling a bit unsure is challenging. But I’m quick to own that. I’m up front with my clinical partners to say, ‘I’m not sure about this, so you’ll have to show me first before I try it’.”
But Shannon’s desire to care for and teach others hasn’t diminished with her career change. “Once I know that I’m good at what I do, I could definitely see myself progressing into an educator role within nursing. Even outside of work, I’m always trying to improve others’ health literacy. It’s not just offering advice to friends or telling my kids to eat vegetables and brush their teeth. It’s being able to share the impacts of poor health and the benefits of different health practices.”
Shannon’s commitment to providing quality care has followed her across careers and serves as a reminder of the core of the nursing profession and what International Nurses Day celebrates: supporting nurses is supporting a brighter future for individuals and communities alike.