Celebrating respiratory nurses on International Nurses Day

7 May 2020

International Nurses Day on Tuesday 12 May is especially significant in 2020, during Year of the Nurse and Midwife. 

We're celebrating the important work of nurses and sharing stories from those working in respiratory care. 

Check in each week during May for a different story. 

Meet Judi Wicking

Judi Wicking’s journey as an asthma and respiratory educator began in 1992 when she completed a course at the Lung Health Promotion Centre.

At the time, she was working in a general practice, following an early start to her career in midwifery.

With the support of one of the clinic’s GPs, her interest in respiratory medicine grew and after further study, she moved to a hospital-based research role.

“This was a huge learning curve and a most important era as I worked with experts in the field and was encouraged to present at conferences with great support,” Ms Wicking says.

After her time in research, she worked on projects including developing nurse-led asthma clinics and as a presenter for the National Asthma Council Australia’s education program.

“As things turned out I could never have imagined that I would have had the opportunities and experiences that I have had in this profession,” she says.  

“Working with people from the very young to the elderly is so rewarding.”

Over nearly 40 years of working in primary care, Ms Wicking has seen recognition rise for the value of preventative health care.

“Spending quality time with patients discussing their health is now well-documented as making a difference to keep people out of hospital,” she says.

Broader acknowledgement and recognition of the important role nurses play in a patient’s asthma care team is another change she has welcomed.

Ms Wicking retired from her role at the National Asthma Council in 2018 after more than a decade as the manager of its health professional education initiatives.

She received the Rosemary Bryant Award at the 2019 APNA Nurse Awards, in recognition of her significant contribution to the profession.

Meet Melinda Gray

Melinda Gray first developed an interest in paediatric medicine through observing her family’s involvement in the early years of the Rotary Oceania Medical Aid for Children program.

“My parents nurtured my interest in nursing, as they always encouraged me to care for others in need,” Ms Gray says.

“My interest particularly in paediatric nursing grew from there.”

Although she initially planned to move into emergency nursing, experience gained while travelling and working overseas cemented her pathway in paediatric care.

Ms Gray is now involved in coordinating the Aiming for Asthma Improvement in Children program at the Sydney Children’s Hospital in Randwick.

She says contributing in a proactive way to the happiness and social participation of sick children and adolescents is a key factor that motivates her work.

“I am also lucky to have two supportive, inspiring mentors and leaders (both medical and nursing) in my workplace who have always encouraged me to constantly challenge myself, innovate and lead,” Ms Gray says.

In 18 years as a paediatric asthma clinical nurse consultant, she has seen considerable changes to asthma management.

“Some of the biggest changes I have seen include the effective implementation of spacer devices and their use in acute asthma management,” Ms Gray says.

The use of standardised paediatric acute asthma guidelines, the development of a standardised asthma flare-up document for school and childcare services, and innovations in delivering asthma management education through online platforms have also contributed to improved asthma management for children, she says.

Meet Rhona MacDonald

Rhona MacDonald knew she wanted to be a nurse from childhood, after having an operation when she was five.

She now has more than three decades of experience as a registered nurse under her belt and works as a respiratory nurse practitioner in Queensland.

A personal connection sparked her interest in respiratory medicine after moving to Australia from Scotland. Ms MacDonald has asthma and lost a grandparent to emphysema as a teenager.

Having asthma herself means she has firsthand knowledge about some of the common issues asthma patients may face, such as remembering to take preventer medication as prescribed when feeling well.

During her years in practice she has witnessed some big changes in asthma management.

“The introduction of combination inhalers was life changing for patients,” she says. “Now it’s watching patients start biologics and regaining some control of their severe asthma.”

Ms MacDonald is a presenter for the Asthma Best Practice for Professionals program, which she enjoys as a chance to connect and share experience with other respiratory nurses.

“I love teaching nurses on the Practice Nurse training days,” she says. “As respiratory nurses we are very isolated in our day to day work.

“Working for the National Asthma Council means I meet other respiratory nurses and can always learn from them and how they are dealing with things.”

Meet Marg Gordon

Marg Gordon, Asthma and Respiratory Educator at the National Asthma Council Australia, has worked in nursing for more than 40 years.

She had originally planned to work as a nurse temporarily before studying accounting, but nursing proved an ideal fit.

“I found I loved nursing and have enjoyed an enormously diverse career ever since. I’m glad I never pursued accounting,” Ms Gordon says.

Her varied career has spanned work in operating theatres, midwifery and aged care, before moving into primary care.

An appetite for a more advanced role then led to an interest in asthma clinics, inspired by mentor Judi Wicking.

Since focusing on respiratory education 15 years ago, Ms Gordon has seen the role of nurse educators expand and witnessed the benefit in the community.

“Education is the key to so many opportunities in life,” she says.

“I really enjoy working with people and their families to improve their health outcomes. I believe that everyone can self-manage their health if they are supported and understand their condition.”

Ms Gordon has also seen an increase in the diversity of asthma medications; she says the availability of effective treatments is a life-changing advancement.

Her focus now is managing the Asthma Best Practice for Professionals program, which delivers asthma management education to health professionals around Australia.