" Palliative care is a job where you get invited into a family’s most intimate moments and it is a real privilege. "
MAY 2022: PAUL HEANEY - ASSOCIATE NURSE UNIT MANAGER, PALLIATIVE CARE
I am a Melbourne boy, born and bred; I grew up in the outer Eastern Suburbs. I’m back living there now with my dad - which is a strange turn of events - but anyway, that is life!
I had never thought of being a nurse, I was a very happily unemployed 18-year-old and got offered a job to cover some leave at Monash Medical Centre as an orderly. It was supposed to be for two weeks, and 30 years later here I am.
After two years as an orderly, I completed my qualification to become an Enrolled Nurse and worked at the Austin for about a decade, before returning to complete my degree to be a Registered Nurse in 2002. During this time, I was sent to most hospitals for a placement, with the exception being Peter Mac. Once I completed my degree, I decided to apply at Peter Mac for a job despite never having been there. That’s how I used to think as a young person! I really had no idea what Peter Mac was about at that point, aside from being a cancer hospital.
I had a dear nurse friend I met through the Austin who was from Thailand and they offered me the opportunity to go and work at a small, rural Thai hospital for six months at a time. I did that a few times and it was such a great experience. I don’t believe there is anything noble about it, it was just interesting to see the differences in resources; using reusable glass syringes, having dogs and cats walking through the wards… We looked after people who had motorcycle accidents, minor broken limbs and lacerations, occasionally some kids with gastro. Anything too serious was quickly shipped off to a city hospital. The nurses there were less likely to give an opinion to a doctor than they are here. I do remember it is the best hospital cafeteria I’ve ever eaten at though! I really am so glad that opportunity presented itself to me.
I began as a graduate at Peter Mac in 2005. I worked bank for a while across most of the departments in the hospital until I ended up settling on the surgical ward and eventually became a Clinical Nurse Specialist there. That was probably the first step in the direction of a leadership role.
I was very happy working on the surgical ward for some time and had a very structured life with work and travel, but as the pandemic hit, it limited my ability to travel. At the same time the palliative care unit opened up and I applied for my current role on Ward 1A as an Associate Nurse Unit Manager.
Palliative care is absolutely where I always thought I would be, I was just waiting for the right opportunity to present itself, which it eventually did. We opened a brand-new ward during the height of the pandemic. We had nurses apply from all over who didn’t know each other, being brought together to create a new unit.
COVID-19 was very difficult and challenging time for me personally. However, I think the leadership on my ward and the nurses and doctors who set the unit up were extremely supportive of staff and patients alike. That made a difficult time a little bit easier.
Palliative care is a job where you get invited into a family’s most intimate moments and it is a real privilege.
" I see myself as a person before I see myself as a Nurse. "
In my experience, patients want to be heard. I hope that nurses new to palliative care know, that while there is a pretty unwell person in front of them, the illness is a very small part of who that person is. That each person has lived a full life with all the same ups and downs as everyone else. It’s so important to see the person - not just the illness.
Throughout my time at Peter Mac, it is the camaraderie that exists among the nurses that drives me to keep turning up to work day after day. I’ve made some great long-standing friends here over the years and for that I am grateful.