" Living in Sierra Leone is what pushed me to do nursing. You really see just how critical healthcare is in places where it is severely lacking and the difference a healthcare worker can make to the community. "
MAY 2022: ALISON LEMOH - HIGH ACUITY TEAM NURSE
We moved from Tasmania to Sierra Leone, West Africa when I was five. We lived there for about nine years, but had to leave because of the Civil War that raged for 10 years. It was a traumatic time and I remember having to run home from school in the middle of the day as there was tear gas being thrown everywhere in the streets and we had to cover our faces and get home as fast as possible. We returned to Sydney when I was fourteen to escape the war and following a loss in the family. It was so weird coming from a country where we had no running water and electricity would only come on for a couple of hours every few weeks back to a country where everything was at your fingertips.
I grew up going to hospitals a lot, as my Dad was a paediatrician. I saw him at work and also how he cared for children brought to our house in Sierra Leone. People treated our house like a clinic - everyone knew a doctor lived there so would just turn up and ask for help. Dad would explain to me the reasons people were ill, especially when he got extreme cases.
Dad raised funds over here in Australia and through the support of Rotary and Sydney University International House, he built a hospital for children in his home town of Bo called Bo Children’s Hospital. It has saved and continues to save many children’s lives today. He is my hero and I loved him dearly.
My brother is an infectious diseases consultant and I have great admiration for him as well. I am the classic third child, I couldn’t choose between the two worlds of medicine and music so I ended up exploring both. I think living in Sierra Leone is what pushed me to do nursing though because you really see just how critical healthcare is in places where it is severely lacking and you see what an incredible difference being a healthcare worker can make to the community.
I wanted to be a geographer when I was at school, but then pursued Nursing instead. In my final year of nursing studies, I was accepted into the Sydney Conservatorium of Music to study classical singing. I worked as a Registered Nurse in a nursing home to pay for my Uni studies, and once I finished my music studies, I went to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPAH) to do my nursing grad year. That’s when I started working in ICU and I have stayed in critical care for ever more! I currently work at Peter Mac as an ICU Outreach Clinical Nurse Consultant with the High Acuity Team.
I completed my Postgraduate Critical Care studies in Sydney for my ICU training at RPAH in 2005 and then later completed the Graduate Certificate in Cancer Nursing through Peter Mac and University of Melbourne. I completed my Master of Advanced Nursing Practice last year and I am very grateful to the amazing Australian Nurses Memorial Centre for the generous Australian Legion of Ex-Servicemen and Women scholarship they gave me to complete my Master’s degree. I am now enrolled as a full-time PhD candidate through the University of Melbourne- Department of Medical Oncology and the National Centre for Infections in Cancer. My PhD research is examining the role of nurses and nursing leadership in the early recognition and management of adult patients with suspected sepsis.
I think nurses need more opportunities to work to their full scope and for this to be recognised. I believe there are still gender biases inherent in our system and as nursing is still predominantly a female profession, there is a lot of invisibility with the work we do.
" Any good intensivist will tell you that a good bedside nurse is absolute gold and we shouldn’t underestimate the level of expertise and precision that a good nurse brings each and every day to their work. "
Within the High Acuity team we have a very supportive culture. The nurses, registrars and consultants work really well together. Our medical consultants are a mix of anaesthetists, physicians and intensivists so we have a huge amount of expertise guiding us. All of the ICU outreach nurses have worked in intensive care for a long time and bring a wealth of knowledge, experience and good humour to the job. I feel privileged to be part of such a lovely group of people and consider myself really lucky.
I still work and perform as an opera singer and I love it as much as ever. There are actually a lot of doctors and nurses out there who live double lives as musicians and clinicians. There is a nurse who works in the Royal Melbourne Hospital ICU who is also a professional violinist and I remember hearing her play a beautiful piece by J. S Bach for a patient there. It was such a special few minutes.
I think nurses are such a precious and diverse group of clinicians and I am fascinated to see how our profession evolves in the next few years and decades. There is a huge breadth of work that can be done to successfully utilise the skills and experience within our profession, and to encourage more nurses to stay in nursing and have exciting and meaningful careers.