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Mature age study a help, not a hindrence, when it comes to nursing

Photo: Sara Kenna
Nursing is a career of passion – with many in the profession proudly claiming to have known all their lives that they would one day become a nurse.

So it’s a common assumption that nursing careers are born from degrees commenced direct from high-school, with first positions secured during a graduate’s mid to late twenties.

But that isn’t necessarily so, as Wesley Hospital’s Director of Nursing, Sara Kenna will attest.

Ms Kenna was in her early thirties when she heard the call.

“I was 32 years old when I commenced a Bachelor of Nursing degree at the Australian Catholic University,” says Ms Kenna.

“I gave birth to my second child during my second year of studying, and had my third baby following the completion of my degree - I took him to my graduation ceremony as a new-born!”
Growing up, Ms Kenna wanted to be classical ballet dancer, and studied classical ballet from the age of four.

“I went to a classical ballet school in Monte Carlo and then worked as a soloist in a professional ballet company in Germany.”

After a successful career as a classical ballerina, Ms Kena’s first qualification was a bachelor degree in human movement, born from her desire to work in the area of health and management.

“During my early career, I was the manager of a fitness department at a large health and beauty organisation in Hong Kong.”

But after 19 years in the health and fitness industry, Ms Kenna felt she wasn’t able to fully reach the people that needed the most help.

“I observed most people who attended health centres to be fairly fit and healthy already, and really wanted to progress my career in a direction that would have a more direct connection with people in need.

“I discussed this with family and friends - many of my family are nurses, and my sister is a psychologist - and nursing was suggested as an ideal profession for me, as it would also utilise my health management experience and qualification.”

For Ms Kenna, age wasn’t considered a barrier, nor a deterrent.

“Definitely not.

“I was extremely focussed and applied myself to the course very well.

“My life experience also gave me an advantage over students that had come straight out of high school.”

Ms Kenna’s first position was as nursing assistant at a nursing home in Ashfield, to make sure this was the career for her.

“I then enrolled in university and started the course.

“During a clinical placement I was offered a position as an undergraduate assistant in nursing at a private mental health hospital, which I gladly accepted.

“I was then offered a position as a registered nurse upon completion of my university studies.”

There are various pathways to become a nurse as a mature age student.

One pathway is direct entry to university via a Bachelor of Nursing degree, which then leads to becoming a registered nurse. The registered nurse is responsible for all other nurses as well as leading the units and coordinating patient care.

Another pathway is via technical and further education (TAFE) at which there are 2 course available.

The first is Certificate III in Health Services Assistance, which takes approximately 6 months to complete and results in an Assistant in Nursing qualification (AIN).

The other is a Diploma of Nursing, which takes about 18 months and results in and endorsed enrolled nurse qualification.

While a person that completes the AIN is not a registered clinician, an enrolled nurse can administer medication and must maintain registration, like a registered nurse.

“All roles are extremely valuable in the provision of care to patients in the healthcare system,” says Ms Kenna.

“An enrolled nurse can attend university, joining the bachelor degree course during their second year to become a registered nurse.”

Ms Kenna now holds a Bachelor of Nursing degree, Post Graduate Diploma in Midwifery, Post Graduate Certificate in Mental Health and a Masters of Business Administration.

“The latter two qualifications has led me to my current role as a registered mental health nurse (MHN) and Director of Nursing at Wesley Hospital in Ashfield.

“I commenced as a registered nurse at the hospital I had been working in as an undergraduate AIN, as I was certain I wanted to specialise in the area of mental health.

“The majority of people do a post graduate course and work as part of a large teaching hospital in order to experience a variety of different areas of nursing before choosing an area to specialise in.

While Ms Kenna studied midwifery, and also has experience in aged care, she has paved a successful career working in mental health.

“I progressed my career from a registered nurse, to a nurse unit manager, to an assistant director of clinical services, and now I am the Director of Nursing at Wesley Hospital in Ashfield.

“Currently, I’m studying the National Safety and Quality Health Service (NSQHS) online training course.”

Ms Kenna says it’s never too late to consider a career in nursing.

“A mature age student has a lot to bring to the nursing profession in terms of life experience, maturity and the ability to apply themselves to a career that is extremely rewarding.

“It is also a very flexible job with a multitude of career paths that incorporate past experience and qualifications.”

Far from being a barrier, Ms Kenna found being a mature age graduate to be beneficial when it came to job seeking.

“I had the common sense and experience to practice autonomously without requiring a lot of direction.

“In my observations, the younger graduates require a lot more support with the basic skills of time management and being able to assess what needs to be done and getting on with it.

“I think that an older person may benefit from things such as financial security, psychosocial stability, and professional and personal experience, which, in turn, may better enable them to successfully achieve the study and practicalities involved in becoming a nurse.”

As with anything though, there are some challenges, such as financial and familial commitments, which may make it difficult to dedicate to a new career.

“In all, if you are considering a career change and looking at nursing as an option, it is a great career choice.

“There are a huge variety of specialties, such as midwifery and mental health, and many areas of career development within the nursing umbrella itself.

“Some of these are education, management, sales and insurance.

“When considering nursing as a career, it is advisable to think about where you might like to end up and what the pathway would be to get there before choosing which qualification you enrol in.

“Some people choose to do the AIN course first, as it is relatively short and most other work may be continued at least part-time.

“This also makes it possible to “'trial' nursing, if you have never been exposed to the healthcare before.”

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.