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The rewards and challenges of paediatric nursing

The rewards and challenges of paediatric nursing
Photo: The rewards and challenges of paediatric nursing
One of paediatric nurse, Nicole Round’s most vivid memories of childhood was time spent at the Royal Children’s Hospital - in particular, the smiling faces of the nurses who helped make a challenging experience, also a happy one.

It was back then, aged just eight, that Ms Round decided that her destiny was in paediatric nursing.

“My mind was made after that, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

“I wanted to become a nurse so I could help people going through challenging and uncertain times and provide them with support.”

When she began her nursing degree, Ms Round hoped it would lead to a career as a paediatric nurse, however it wasn’t until her student placement at the Royal Children’s Hospital that she knew that paediatrics was the speciality for her.
“I completed my nursing graduate year at The Royal Children’s Hospital and have stayed there ever since.

“Paediatrics appealed to me because I’ve always loved children and really enjoy working as part of a team. Working in paediatrics is special because you are providing care to both the patients and the families, and it’s really nice to have a collaborative approach working alongside families towards positive patient outcome.”

But while paediatrics has exceeded Ms Rounds expectations, the career itself wasn’t as straightforward as she expected it to be.

“At first, I hoped it would be a lot of cuddling babies!” she says.

“Which was wrong, but fortunately that does happen on occasion.

“Paediatrics is bigger than just caring for your patient, it’s about family centred care.

“It’s about supporting families through challenging times and advocating for your patient.

“Paediatric nurses spend time building rapport with children and developing trust. Children often come to hospital scared and fearful, and nurses spend a lot of time building relationships with patients to make them feel comfortable and safe.”

Working in the paediatric oncology ward, Ms Round primarily cares for children with cancer and haematological conditions.

“We provide care to children who are at different stages of their journey, from newly diagnosed patients, to patients who are in hospital receiving chemotherapy or bone marrow transplants and children who are recovering from the effects of treatment.

“We care for children from a few months of age to teenagers and of varying degrees of severity.”

While a nurse undertakes practical tasks and assessments to ensure the patient is receiving best, most up to date care possible, paediatric nurses also provide psychosocial support to patients and families, whether that means sitting and having a conversation or giving a hug on a difficult day.

“A nurse’s role is ever changing and evolving.

“A nurse’s role is much more than medical, of equal importance is providing psychological and emotional support to families and patients.

“Patients need a safe space to express themselves and their worries. The way children express themselves varies with age, some younger children may ask a lot of questions, while older kids and teenagers may express their fears through art, or sometimes teenagers feel more comfortable talking to a nurse compared to their parents about their concerns, as they may view the nurse as more of a peer than a figure of authority.”

Of course, that care also extends to the patient’s family.

“Children are very intuitive, and can often can sense if their parent is upset or worried, so ensuring parents have emotional support and a safe space to voice their fear is vital to the wellbeing of the child and parent.”

For Ms Round, one of the most rewarding elements of paediatric nurses is watching the bravery and resilience of children. 

“Even after a child has been in hospital for months, they can still find a way to have fun and make the best of their situation.

“However, my favourite part will always be seeing the children who have finished treatment come and visit the ward, watching the children grow up living happy and healthy lives makes all the hard times worth it.”

Of course, with reward, comes challenge, and this is particularly relevant in paediatric nursing.

“Some of the biggest challenges are the emotional struggles the patient and families face, the hard questions such as ‘how did this happen?’ and ‘will they be okay?’, are substantial questions that don’t always have answers, and it’s challenging helping families get through these difficult moments.

“It can be very emotionally tough caring for unwell patients. Nurses like to be upbeat and have a positive outlook, however dealing with unwell children can be difficult and does take its toll.”

To overcome the vast emotional challenges of paediatric nursing, Ms Round says it’s critical that nurses acknowledge that nursing can be tough.

“By acknowledging and validating the stress people may be feeling, it provides the opportunity for people to ask for help and be able to receive the support required.

“Communication really is the key to dealing with stress and emotionally challenging situations.

“Being a nurse can be stressful job filled with many rewards but the challenges can become overwhelming if you don’t prioritise your own mental health.

“Taking time for yourself to unwind and relax after work can be easy to neglect especially if you’ve had a busy day, but it’s important to take a small amount of time each day to do something you enjoy.

“Whether that means going outside for a walk, exercising, calling a friend for a chat, debriefing to a fellow nurse who understands the situation, or even just a night on the couch watching a movie. Prioritising yourself and your needs helps people from becoming overwhelmed and burnt out, and ultimately leads to providing better nursing care.”

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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.