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When paving a career in nursing, one of the key decisions you’ll have to make is whether to pursue your career in the public or private sector.

There are a few things to consider when making a decision, such as the type of work that interests you, the importance of work environment, routine and your area of specialisation.

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For registered nurse Zara Lord, being exposed to both sectors has enabled her to diversify her skills and identify the areas of nursing she enjoys the most.

After school, I went straight into a nursing degree in 2006 and I commenced work in 2009,” says Ms Lord.

“I thought it would be a great way to have a flexible career that would allow me to earn flexible income and travel while pursuing a career in a creative industry.


“Then I started nursing and loved it! So much so that I've been in my most recent job for 7.5 years.”

Ms Lord says her primary position has always been in the public sector in both small and large hospitals, however she’s also worked additional shifts at private hospitals, via nursing agencies, to earn extra income and save.

Both sectors have their strengths and weaknesses, says Ms Lord.

“I love working publicly.

“They have fantastic training and support, the cases are more interesting and diverse and you feel like a health professional in a hospital and not a maid in a hotel.

“The experience I have had in private hospitals has been interesting but very routine surgeries, yet fast-moving in terms of patient flow and administration, however less clinically interesting.

“For me personally, I like the challenge of using critical thinking and analysis to prioritise care, collaborate with a team and respond to changing clinical situations.”

According to Ms Lord, the individual sectors offer their own set of pros and cons.


  • great training
  • interesting and diverse patients, such as emergency, medical and surgical patients
  • ample policies and resources available, developed internally
  • variety of possible roles within the hospital, such as educator, program manager, nurse specialist etc.
  • higher incidence of verbal or physical abuse due to the demographic of clients in the public system
  • fast-paced
  • busy shifts

  • nicer and less clinical surroundings
  • the majority of patients have a less complex medical history
  • more routine due to theatre schedules and booked cases
  • nurse perks, such as yummy food in the team rooms

  • more mundane, less clinical tasks, such as patient flow and documentation to account for a higher turnover of post-operative patients that are relatively short-stay
  • your care is tailored to the unique requirements of each surgeon rather than hospital-wide policy
  • work to surgeon’s schedule, for example they decide when a patient comes back from theatre regardless of the nursing teams workload on the ward

For Ms Lord, the public system provides a more interesting and diverse career. 

“I have been given incredible support and offered a range of opportunities from different roles that would assist my development, to post-graduate study.”

But, she says, preference will vary depending on personal goals, so it’s a good idea to spend some time in each sector.

“Consider the specialty area you want to get in to, and this can be multiple until you decide on one, also consider the type of experience you want to gain and the size of the hospital you wish to work in.

“Both public and private have their place, and there are great job opportunities in private, but as a nurse who has a big love of clinical practice and being a direct care provider, it's public all the way for me.

“Perhaps if I got burnt out and wanted a different type of work, I might move to private.”

Ms Lord says, despite the pros and cons of each, both require some TLC.
“Both need better staffing - working a shift that is short-staffed is by far the main thing that makes me not want to go back again.

“It is heartbreaking not being able to provide patients with the care they deserve because you are prioritising multiple critical tasks.”


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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 ( and a children's author.