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Soaring to new heights

Flight Lieutenant Leigh Molloy is a Nursing Officer in the 1 Expeditionary Health Squadron at Amberley Medical Centre outside Brisbane. She tells Linda Belardi about her career highs and lows and how she stays connected to her profession.

At Amberley Medical Centre near Brisbane, Leigh Molloy, 32 is currently the nursing officer in charge of outpatients – a role similar to a GP practice manager. She took up the managerial position after two years working in a civilian base hospital as an air force employee. In 2010 she spent four months deployed to Dubai as a Senior Nursing Officer at the air force medical facility on base.

Earlier in her career, Molloy witnessed the devastation of the SEIV-36 boat explosion at Ashmore Reef in April 2009. Just hours after the explosion, Molloy along with an army doctor and an army nurse were flown to Truscott Airfield to assist in the aero-medical evacuation of civilians. During the crisis, she acted as a liaison between the RAAF and the civilian medical staff to co-ordinate the evacuation of patients from Truscott Island to Perth.

She has a nursing degree from James Cook University, sponsored by a Defence University scholarship.

NR: Can you describe a particular day at work?

The majority of my day is spent co-ordinating activities in the outpatient department (OPD). I normally start around 0630 hours to answer emails and complete administration work. We have a morning briefing at 0725 and sick parade (the daily military formation at which personnel report to the medical officer as sick) starts at 0730. My responsibility is to ensure an orderly flow of patients from the medics through to the doctors and then when they are admitted or discharged as required. I also act as a reference point for the medics providing clinical and military procedural advice. The rest of the morning is spent in administrative work attending to general matters within the unit or processing requests from the other units on base on behalf of the outpatient department. Most afternoons we run a needle program to keep the base personnel up to date with their required vaccinations, which at times can be up to 30 or 40 members requiring immunisations.
Throughout the day I will work with other members of our unit, assisting them with maintenance of our [medical] kit used both at the unit and with aero-medical evacuations or deployments.

NR: What aspects of military nursing do you find most challenging?

One of the significant challenges would be being responsible for an entire department, not only the actual activities that have to occur, but also being in charge of a large group of people whether they be medics or nurses. This management responsibility is unusual in comparison to civilian nursing as it occurs much earlier in your career.

NR: You were recently posted to Dubai. Can you describe the work that you carried out during your posting and what professional lessons you took away from that experience?

The deployment was similar in many aspects to working in a medical unit within Australia as we were still responsible for the healthcare of the members at the base, however it was more hands-on clinical work than my normal job. The time pressures and the reality of working in a foreign country definitely taught me to work long hours under pressure and to problem solve through many situations. I also learnt the importance of making timely decisions even without all the required information.

NR: What traits and skills do you need to be successful in your job?

I believe being flexible and to think through complex situations quickly; a willingness to have a go and to take responsibility for your own and others’ actions are very important to functioning in this job. Patience and a sense of humour are also extremely important.

NR: How did the Ashmoore reef incident enhance your skills in disaster response and working under pressure?

Being part of the effort at Truscott gave me great insight into how the military and civilian systems differ and how they can work together to complement each other’s weaknesses and strengths. It also helped to reinforce the lessons that I had learnt both through the military and through my Master’s of Public Health.

NR: How do you maintain your professional links with other civilian and military nurses and the broader nursing profession?

It is important to remain connected to the nursing profession, as often we are required to dive back into hands-on clinical work for example during deployments, exercises or aero- medical evacuations. As part of the 1 Expeditionary Health Squadron, we have a professional development officer and part of his job is to keep the clinical staff updated with changes in their profession. This is achieved through attending civilian courses or conferences, as well as through internal training sessions held weekly. Also, there are currently plans for our military nurses to work in civilian hospitals as part of their military job in order to maintain skills and currency.

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