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Written By

Katherine Kokkonen


College of Healthcare Sciences

Publish Date

7 June 2019

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Endless opportunities for nurse practitioners

Time spent in hospital as a sickly child sparked Sue Edwards to pursue a career in healthcare, with a few detours on the way.

Nurse, mother, teacher, midwife, PhD student — Sue Edwards has had many roles during her life. The self-confessed eternal student has taken the road less travelled to be where she is today, juggling family life with academia and coordinating the Master of Nursing (Nurse Practitioner) program at James Cook University.

“Nursing is moving towards a very exciting period,” she says. “There are so many options, including the ability to have a more autonomous role as a nurse practitioner.”

Nurse practitioners work in advanced and extended roles and are able to independently assess and manage patients in their care. Nurse Practitioners are experts in their field and their duties include, but are not limited to, the ordering of diagnostic investigations, the formation of a diagnosis and the provision of treatment options, including the prescribing of medications.

“While it’s not for everyone, some nurses will love being a surgical nurse or a nurse unit manager, it’s good to be able to have a choice,” Sue says. “For me, I feel very blessed to be a nurse practitioner.”

Sue’s passion for healthcare was kindled during a childhood spent in hospitals. Although she was ill, she noticed how well the nurses treated her and the other children.

“When I was growing up, I was a sickly child so I had a lot of admissions to hospital and contact with nurses,” she says.

"From a young age, I always wanted to be a nurse. I just always felt that’s where I needed to go and what I needed to do."

Sue Edwards

With that goal firmly set in her mind, Sue set about achieving it. She began nursing training at the Princess Alexandra Hospital (PA) in Brisbane, in 1990, and was part of the second last intake of nursing students to go through the hospital system. After her initial training, Sue worked in orthopaedics, which involved “lots of bed pans”. She went on to work in a range of units including gastrointestinal, anaesthetics, paediatrics and a tuberculosis ward. She eventually returned to the PA Hospital, a move that changed the course of her life.

“I found where I wanted to be, which was in the Emergency Department (ED),” she says. “I liked the fact that it was fast-paced. You had to think a lot on your feet and you worked in a team as a cohesive unit.”

During that time, Sue’s own team became larger with the arrival of her first child. She then moved to Mackay and began working in the Base Hospital’s Emergency Department. After a period of time, she decided to become a midwife. She finished a Bachelor of Nursing in 1996 and soon completed a Graduate Diploma of Midwifery. It was at this time that her second child was born.

Sue eventually went back to work in the ED, but also wanted to continue working as a midwife. “I had very good nurse unit managers who allowed me to work one week in Emergency Department and then one week in the Midwifery Unit,” Sue says. “I was lucky enough to be able to combine the two. I think it shows the flexibility of nursing and that you always have a lot of options, which is fantastic.”

Sue’s career took an even bigger detour when in 2002 she decided to leave nursing and study a Bachelor of Learning Management. She went on to teach Year 7 for three years.

Nurse practitioner supervises a medical trainee with patient
Sue Edwards
Left: Nurse practitioners fulfill a number of roles, including supervisory. Right: Sue Edwards

Pioneering the nurse practitioner role

“I then found out about the nurse practitioner role that was being introduced within Australia,” Sue says.

“As soon as I heard about the role, I wanted to do it. It takes a lot of dedication because it is an intense course and that’s how it should be. As a nurse practitioner you’re an expert in your field and that requires commitment. When you’re finally there, it’s so rewarding.”

Not one to rest on her laurels, Sue recently completed a PhD. The move to academia gave her a chance to continue learning. Her thesis, Bringing together the threads of care in possible miscarriage for women, their partners and nurses in non-metropolitan emergency departments, explored the experiences of women and their male partners who presented to non-metropolitan EDs with possible miscarriage, along with the experiences of the nursing staff who provided care in these settings.

Having settled in Mackay, Sue does not anticipate changing profession any time soon. She hopes to continue coordinating the Nurse Practitioner program as well as pursuing her passion for research.

“It’s been very rewarding,” she says. “I love learning every day. I have a thirst for knowledge, as they say.”

If you have a passion for learning, find out what you can do with JCU Nursing and Midwifery.