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Careers at Peninsula Health: Q&A with mental health nurse Elisabeth White

Elisabeth White was the recipient of the 2016 Award of Excellence for the graduate Mental Health program at Peninsula Health. She shares why she decided to pursue a career in mental health nursing and some of the challenges and rewards of her graduate year.

1. Why did you decide to study nursing and specialise in mental health?

My partner has had chronic depression for most of our marriage and my eldest daughtered suffered severe anorexia nervosa for a number of years, being in and out of mental health services. These experiences gave me a passion to work more acutely in the health services field. I have also spent a number of years helping with suicide prevention and support of the LGBTIQ community in Australia, one of our most vulnerable populations. This passion for mental health nursing grew even more when I undertook my mental health placement as an RN student at Peninsula Health. 

2. What did you do prior to studying nursing?

Most of my career to date has been centred on people – managing people, developing people, helping them through issues and seeing them grow and flourish.  I have qualifications in technology management and religious ministry. I have worked in both fields and have always loved interacting, relating with and supporting people.  I also worked as a musician/singer for a couple of years on a career break which was fun.

3. What did you enjoy most about completing your graduate year at Peninsula Health?

The skill, passion and diversity of people you meet and work with as well as the amount of specific training provided to mental health grads in the field. The teams I have worked with have been amazing with their heart, passion, dedication and team work putting their clients first, often under challenging circumstances.

4. Do you have any particular stand out memories from your graduate year?

I had an experience helping a young woman in an emergency situation requiring the fire department to assist. I was the key negotiator and due to the rapport I had built up with the client we were able to resolve the situation quickly and without injury to anyone.  The fire department mentioned me specifically in the debrief congratulating me on the way I handled the situation. It felt great to be acknowledged.

5. What was the most challenging part of your graduate year?

The frantic pace of the acute wards can at times be almost bewildering.  It takes a while to get used the pace on the ward. It is a big step up from student placements. In addition, learning to de-escalate acute clients exhibiting agitation and aggression is a critical skill that you are constantly developing.  Finally, juggling shift work, post graduate study and family / children is always an ongoing challenge.

6. How does it feel to have won the Award of Excellence for the Graduate Nurse Program, Mental Health?

To be honest I was a little embarrassed on the day but also a little proud. I always strive to give my studies, work and everything I do my absolute best effort. All of us mental health grads deserved an award as we had a great cohort but it was nice to get some acknowledgement. My parents were very proud.

7. What are your plans for this year?

The grad contract in mental health includes a 2nd year contract where we complete our post graduate studies in mental health. Our cohort is studying Master Advanced Nursing (Mental Health) and I will continue to work in the acute ward for the next 6 months with a 6 month rotation in community care later in the year.

8. What would you say to other people considering pursuing a career as a mental health nurse?

If you love people, if you are compassionate, if you enjoy learning and love a challenging and fast paced environment then go for it. It is challenging yet so rewarding. You develop long term therapeutic relationships with clients at times over multiple admissions which provide you with a unique opportunity to contribute to their recovery.