NEXT UP ON this.
If the freedom to travel is something you want to factor into your future career, you might be surprised to learn that being a nurse gives you a secure ticket around the world.
Kelly Menzel moved to London with two boxes and that was it. Well, almost it – she had a job lined up, thanks to her nursing qualifications. But still, it was a risk. ‘I didn’t know if it was going to work out or not. I gave up my house and my job, everything.’ She ended up staying in London for seven years.
‘I did so much travelling,’ she says. ‘It was reasonable to catch the train to Paris or Brussels and spend the weekend there. That’s really doable if you’re working in nursing.’ She saw a lot of UK and Europe, as well as Canada and the Middle East.
Now, as a nursing lecturer at Deakin’s Institute of Koorie Education, Kelly looks back on her time abroad with great joy. ‘I’d definitely recommend nursing as a way to travel and see the world.’
When most of us think of nurses, we think of hospitals. ‘It’s what we see on television,’ says Kelly. ‘Or the experience we’ve had ourselves. But it’s so much more diverse than that.’ At home and abroad there are opportunities for nurses to work in schools, construction sites, NGOs and many other areas.
‘You can be a nurse on a mine in far-north Western Australia,’ says Kelly. ‘There are so many places you can be a nurse. It’s like a little passport in itself.’
In London, Kelly used her nurse training to work in a university, as a senior lecturer in primary health care. The university had a widening participation philosophy, which meant that most students came from marginalised groups. ‘It was about giving access to students who wouldn’t normally have access,’ she says.
That philosophy sat well with Kelly’s interest and expertise in community health, an area that can go by many different names. ‘Community nursing, district nursing, social inclusive nursing in the community, whatever title it has, it means working at a grass roots level.’ This includes working at a community clinic or doing outreach into people’s homes or the wider community.
When it comes to community nursing, Kelly walks the talk. ‘When I got back from the UK I wanted a bit of a change,’ she says. So she took up a position with the Aboriginal Health and Medical Centre, the peak body for Aboriginal community control health services in NSW. Though based in Sydney, she had the opportunity to travel out to communities all across NSW, from Griffith to Walgett to Bourke.
Her job was ‘to develop Aboriginal health workers to become practitioners in their own right whilst working in community. Which means they’ve got clinical skills and can also act as cultural brokers.’
'There are so many places you can be a nurse. It’s like a little passport in itself.'
Institute of Koorie Education, Deakin University
Being Aboriginal herself, Kelly saw it was a nice chance to give back to her community. But she’s quick to add that she got far more out of it than anybody ever got from her. ‘I just found it so fantastic and fulfilling…I found real purpose.’
Why become a nurse if not to make a difference?
With so many nursing opportunities to choose from, how can you make sure you’re on the right path to find your purpose?
‘At university, students get a taste of all sorts of types of nursing,’ says Kelly. So don’t worry if you don’t have a clear idea of where you’ll end up. Your training will expose you to everything from intensive care to community health, aged care to maternal and child health, acute care to mental health. You may even have the opportunity to engage in overseas study experiences such as study tours and internships, which will give you an even broader perspective of the different types of roles and contexts in which nurses are valued across the world.
‘The door is open to make a lot of choices,’ says Kelly. ‘(Students) can dip their toe in all sorts of areas to get a feel for what they want.’
And if you’re after the path less trodden, organisations like Médecins Sans Frontières and the Red Cross offer opportunities for nurses to do field work and international aid placements all around the world. Fancy nursing in Namibia? Or what about community health in Cambodia?
‘There’ll always be a desire and a need for the nursing profession,’ says Kelly.
The health sector is Australia’s largest source of employment. Not only that, it has the strongest growth projections of any other industry.
When Kelly travelled to the UK she found that, as a nurse, she was exempt from the normal rules of a working visa. ‘Because Australian RNs (registered nurses) have such a good reputation abroad,’ she says. ‘And (because) nurses are often at a shortage in health systems, there is lots of work available and to be done!’
‘It is a really great career,’ she says. ‘Exciting, interesting, flexible.’ And needed.
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