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Nurse who celebrates 50 years on the job this year shares her story

Lyn McBain will celebrate 50 years as a nurse in this, The World Health Organization's Year of the Nurse.

Leaving school as a fifteen-year-old and working as a registered nurse across brain injuries, aged, disability, palliative and rehabilitation care, Lyn has touched many lives – those that she’s cared for, and those she’s trained. 

“When I see the people I care for, I see their stories,” she says. “At times, it makes me very emotional to see where they’ve come from and what they can achieve.”

As the recently appointed Community Support and Development Nurse for Absolute Care & Health (Absolute), she’s now sharing these stories and her half-century of experience with the next generation of nurses and carers.

McBain spoke with Aged Care Insite to talk about her journey so far.

ACI: It’ll be fifty years in May since you started your career, tell me how you came to nursing?

LMcB: Well, how I came into nursing, why I came into nursing, was at three years of age, my grandmother gave me a nurse’s outfit, and that was it. It was all over. So I never, ever wanted to do anything else.

Wow, and so I'm guessing then you left school and went straight into the job?

To be a nurse then you had to be 16 years and nine months. And so, I could never get my VCE because you didn't have to back then to get into nursing. So, I left school before my VCE, because I kept saying, "I just want to be a nurse”.

You learnt on the job, more like a trade than it is now?

That's exactly right. I've actually done both. I did my original training at Austin Hospital in Heidelberg.

I really wanted to work with people in spinal, because I had a brother that had a disability. In those days, you did on the job training and that's quite correct. But then, over the years, I decided that I would go back and do uni training, because you had to keep up.

It was very, very different when I did mine. And probably the amount of information that you learned as well, was much less than what you learn now. I was actually in hospital myself and I had a university nurse look after me and I thought, "you know what, that's what I'm going to do".

And so, I was much older, and I thought, "look, I want to go back and do it." So, I did. And at that time, by then I'd fallen into rehabilitation, and didn't really like working anywhere else except rehabilitation and brain injury.

How did you find going back to study later? I know you probably had a lot of knowledge, maybe you had a leg-up on some of the people doing the degrees and masters?

That's right. And it was all done by distance education – people from all around Australia, and outside of Australia too, could do that course. But then you all had to come together and do a competency block somewhere in Australia. So I did mine in Perth, in WA, so that was good too, because then you actually were all on the same level at the same time, all finishing around the same time.

It was better than going to uni and listening to young kids talk about their boyfriends.

Did becoming a nurse live up to expectations?

Oh yeah, definitely. And it was very different when you wanted to become a nurse in my day. You went to a hospital and… are you ready? You had to take your mother to the interview.

Because the matron of the hospital had to see, and these were her words, "that you are of good stock,"; that you came from a good family background. They didn't want bad people obviously, to be nurses. And so could you imagine in this day and age taking your mother to an interview? That's what you had to do.

You've seen massive changes in nursing over this period. What other kinds of things have you seen change for good or worse?

Say you were in a hospital and you're on a ward and you're in the office and you're writing your notes into a patient's file: as a doctor walked into that office, no matter what you were doing, you literally had to stand to attention.

You couldn't sit down and continue your notes while the doctor was in the room, you weren't allowed to. The second- and third-year nurses used to be in charge of a ward, that would be unheard of now. Even now I train nurses and when I think about the risks of doing that, because that's how it was, second- and third-year nurses on rotations used to be in charge at the worst times, like in the afternoons and overnight duty. That's how the system went.

The nursing charge used to shout the food. Literally, they used to bring a hot box onto the ward and the nursing charge had to make sure each patient got enough meat, enough vegetables and they had to basically work out a diet on the spot. That never happens now.

When you were a training nurse you worked six days a week. If you were lucky, you might be able to get a weekend off, if you had a wedding or something like that, but you couldn't usually get it off, you had to apply for it.

And the other thing that I find really fascinating when I think about it is we had to wear uniforms, and we had buttons on our dresses that we wore and our buttons were all removable, so we had to take out buttons off our uniform each week to be sent to the laundry. And then when they came back, you had to put all your buttons back on your dress and it was the same as your hat. You know the nurses hats that we used to wear? They had buttons on the back for them to keep them, and they all got sent off, they had to be starched. Everything had to be boiled and starched, so you had to put all your uniform back together.

But I think the level and quality of care has definitely improved over that period of time.

Has that coincided with the professionalisation and with degrees?

Yeah. It's the knowledge. The knowledge is really one level below a doctor. So after I did my Masters, I also did nurse practitioner. And then I did cert 4 in training and assessing. So I could train carers and other nurses. Which is what I do in my role here now.

I do some things with nurses, but the majority is training of carers. Absolute supports me in that and at the end of last year, my role changed from being an assessment nurse across the board full-time, because I still work full time, to being a full-time educator but I still oversee and I complete the assessments on the complex clients.

How do you like being in a specific training role and passing on everything you've learned?

I really love it and I found when I went to the first company that was similar to this, I found I was working with carers, but they didn't really have the knowledge they actually needed, and they were absolutely thirsty for knowledge. The carers do a very basic course and so any extra knowledge that they can get from me is what they really love.

And then you can build up sequences; let's say, we're talking about brain injuries, so you get a brain injury client, you get a group of carers that want to work with that person, and so you can do a whole lot of brain injury education. And so then the next time you've got a client with a similar injury, you've already trained those people up, so you can then use them for the next one. They just keep on adding to the training.

A couple of quick questions: worst moment in nursing?

Well, gosh, there's lots of them. I guess probably the worst, absolutely worst memory I guess would be when I've been hit – I've been punched in the face. But you know you've got to bounce back, otherwise you wouldn't stay in the field.

And best memory?

I think my best moment and you could say this is over and over and over really, and that's why I like rehabilitation, is because people do get better. So, they can be in a really, really bad way in hospital and then they'll go home and then all the things that they couldn't do in hospital, all of a sudden they can now do in the community.

And that's why I like community, because once they're discharged from hospital, then they'll really start to rehabilitate and start to try and get back some normality in life. And there's a lot of services out there that will help them, like physio and speech therapy and things like that. You see people improve.

So I think my best moment is when I'm seeing people improve. I think that's, for me, what keeps me in the game because I keep on seeing people improve from either my education that helps families as well because that's important.

What would your advice be to a graduate nurse starting today?

We're just about to take on our very first grad by the way, which is very exciting. My advice always to new nurses is don't steer away from your training and listen to your gut. If you think that something's not right with that patient and someone's trying to tell you, "no, don't worry about it," always stick by your gut feeling if that's really what you think and don't steer away from your training.

I've always felt that's really, really important.

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