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Written By

Hannah Gray


College of Healthcare Sciences

Publish Date

12 May 2020

Related Study Areas

A vital role in society

With the COVID-19 pandemic as a striking example, we, as a global society, have experienced for ourselves the vital role that nurses play in our world and in our lives. JCU Head of Nursing and Midwifery Professor Melanie Birks and Professor Caryn West give insight into why nurses are the backbone of every healthcare system in the world.

Reflecting on the drastic impacts and changes that our societies have experienced in recent times, it is important to recognise not only the contribution that nurses and midwives make to healthcare world-wide, but the legacy of the profession. Professor Caryn West points out how this legacy is enhanced by our current situation. “Frankly, there is no better time to be a nurse or midwife,” Caryn says. “Once this all ends – and it will end – it will be the nurses and midwives that keep the healthcare system afloat and are central to rebuilding communities and supporting the people that live within them.”

Professor Melanie Birks explains that as societies across the globe face unprecedented challenges, nurses will be a consistent presence in every area of healthcare. “Nurses are the backbone of every healthcare system in the world,” Melanie says. “We make up the largest group of health professionals in every corner of the world. Nurses are with patients twenty-four-seven in hospitals. It is nurses providing primary care in rural and remote areas. Nurses and midwives support individuals across the lifespan, providing care, education and advocacy.”

Caryn praises JCU staff and students for standing strong in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The manner in which our staff from the JCU College of Healthcare Sciences have responded to this crisis and how our students have risen to the challenge is nothing short of remarkable,” she says. “Our graduates are the leaders of our future healthcare systems and what an experience to have to draw on – a global pandemic.”

Adapting for the future

Two of JCU’s infection control experts, Vanessa Sparke and Andrea Grimes, have been working with the Queensland Government to re-purpose buildings and procedures for new GP-led respiratory clinics.

JCU Physiotherapy staff and students are offering their services through telehealth channels. The JCU Nursing students who have continued their practical studies with hospital staff have shown their support and appreciation for healthcare workers through giving back to hospital staff any way they can – via practical support as well as gifts of appreciation.

JCU has a strong focus on equipping Nursing students with the training and practical knowledge necessary to make a difference to individuals in every region and community. Melanie explains that JCU has a unique geographical footprint. “We work within unique rural, remote, tropical and Indigenous communities,” Melanie says. “We prepare nurses to work in diverse settings – from complex metropolitan environments to isolated practice contexts. Our graduates have the breadth and depth of knowledge and skills to work anywhere.”

Flexibility, humility, courage, tolerance, communication, compassion. These are the qualities that Melanie says are most important to a nurse or midwife, and the qualities that make nurses and midwives stand out both in times of crisis and in everyday situations.

So, are there ways that we can show our appreciation to these professionals that play such an important role in our society and put themselves at risk so that they can aid us? “Yes,” Melanie says. “Stay home. Recognise that nurses are highly educated and skilled professionals and follow their lead in terms of safe practice.” By following the guidelines that the Australian government has put into place, washing our hands and helping to flatten the curve, we can show our appreciation to the men and women putting their lives on the line to protect their communities.

Interested in how nurses and midwives can be celebrated? Find out more about International Nurses' Day.

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Featured researcher

Professor Melanie Birks

Head, Nursing and Midwifery

Professor Birks’ professional goal is to enhance the quality and experience of tertiary education for students and educators through leadership, research and innovation. Her track record in publication, grant success and consultancies demonstrate her determination to advance scholarship in health professional education.

Professor Birks’ professional goal grew out of her own experience of the power that education has in promoting and enhancing personal and professional opportunities for practitioners and educators in the health sciences. Professor Birks has extensive experience and expertise in educational administration, teaching and curriculum design and development in local, international, military, and civilian environments.