It has been a challenging year to be a nurse with staff shortages, having to wear "stifling" personal protective equipment, uncomfortable masks and dealing with frustrated patients and families who cannot see each other - even more so for a first-year nurse.
But Samantha Brown could not be happier with her change of career despite the immense changes and intense pressure that COVID has placed on the health system.
Ms Brown started as an enrolled nurse at Ballarat Health Services early this year after finishing her Diploma of Nursing and traineeship through Federation TAFE last year.
And this week she was named Trainee of the Year at the Victorian Training Awards.
It was the traineeship, which included a rotation in BHS' sub-acute ward, that lead to her getting a job in the same ward this year and stepping in to full-time nursing in a COVID-stretched system.
"There's been so many changes and there's not a nurse around that will tell you it's not been more difficult. The big changes are all the PPE throughout the height of COVID - the gowns, masks, goggles, it's really stifling when you're running around looking after people," she said.
"Everywhere is understaffed because they've had to create this whole new sector because of COVID and you can only spread staff out so much so there's a lot more pressure within units.
"Then there's the poor poor patients and their families ... who have to take what you as a nurse say over the phone without laying eyes on them ... you have to deal with a lot more frustration and it hinders patients in a rehab setting. We know seeing family members lifts a patient's mood and spirit, and nurses really have to step up and be that drive and enthusiasm they usually get from their loved ones."
If you go to one of those hot-spots and come down with COVID the ward is locked down and the nurses on shift with you have to go in to quarantine as well ... you don't want to be the one to get COVID and don't want everyone to suffer even though it's obviously not your faultSamantha Brown
She has also missed out on being able to sit with colleagues in the staffroom to chat - where informal learning often takes place.
But she considers it a blessing she has been able to continue working, and that while staff are stretched patient care has not been compromised.
Ms Brown said restrictions easing this week did not mean the pressure on the health system would ease - it could get worse.
And with COVID in the community, the possibility of being inadvertently exposed to the virus is always in the back of her mind.
"There's that pressure of when restrictions ease that you really have to stay on top of where hot-spots are and minimise where you're going. If you go to one of those hot-spots and come down with COVID the ward is locked down and the nurses on shift with you have to go in to quarantine as well ... you don't want to be the one to get COVID and don't want everyone to suffer even though it's obviously not your fault.
"But in saying that, live goes on and you're not going to stop going out."
Ms Brown is doubly cautious as her partner is auto-immune compromised and at greater risk of catching COVID if exposed.
Always intrigued by nursing, she realised when she finished high school that she wasn't ready to make a long-term career choice. The 29-year-old worked for several years as a conveyancer and then in a fast-paced role managing a top hotel in Ballarat.
But a few years ago she decided to return to study, enrolling in a Certificate III of Individual and Ageing Support to ensure nursing was the right career path for her, before going on to enrol in the Diploma of Nursing.
"It was not until the later years of my working life, the call of a career in nursing which I had been drawn to all those years ago came to fruition," she said.
"The traineeship was a perfect fit, as I learn best with hands-on experience. The opportunity to work within the field whilst studying was a major drawcard."
Succeeding in her studies as a mature-aged student has given her the confidence to continue to study and she has just applied to do her Bachelor of Nursing to become a registered nurse which will allow her to further her career.
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"Becoming a registered nurse will make things a bit easier and open up a few more wards like ICU that I'll be able to work in, and just broaden my career," she said.
Being named Victorian Trainee of the Year came as a surprise.
"I know I worked hard throughout my traineeship. At high school I wasn't a bad student, but wasn't a high achiever but I really wanted to succeed at this and become a nurse so to get this recognition is so humbling, reassuring and exciting."
"To start this career and have recognition I'm doing a good job, and I'm obviously good at study aspect, and to get a job at BHS straight away and be happy every day at work despite the challenges, then I must be in the right place."
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