Nursing teachers on the frontline

Many people are searching for a career that bring meaning to their life. Bendigo TAFE teachers Michelle Primmer and Renee Petersen can proudly say they have not just one, but two rewarding careers that they love.

Two days a week, Michelle Primmer dons her scrubs and personal protective equipment (PPE) to serve as a nurse in the intensive care unit (ICU) supporting our community’s most vulnerable patients.

On the other days she puts on her teaching hat to educate and inspire aspiring nurses at Bendigo TAFE so they can one day start their own meaningful careers.

Ms Primmer says working as both an ICU nurse and nursing teacher has been personally and professionally enriching.

“I have been a nurse for over 20 years, with 17 years in ICU. After a few years of working in the ICU, I found myself still drawn to the education side of this sector so I decided to pursue nursing education,” she said.

“I love both my jobs and it is very rewarding to see my passion and love of the profession be transferred to the students at Bendigo TAFE.”

Ms Primmer’s current experience in the field has been a bonus for students who have direct insight into the workings of frontline hospital staff, from supporting patients with specific cultural needs, to advocating for patients’ wishes after death and providing equal care for patients.

“As a nurse I have been able to share some of my learning moments and I teach in such a way that is parallel to what happens in real life clinical settings,” she said.

“Having current industry experience is a huge benefit as a teacher and I am able to educate my students about an ever-changing workplace environment so they can be well prepared for placements.”

With nurses currently at the forefront of the response to COVID-19, Ms Primmer says her dual role as a nurse and teacher is all the more important.

“COVID has bought on new challenges in the ICU, such as the constant wearing of PPE, the difficulty of limited visiting and the emotional and psychological challenge of working amidst the threat of COVID,” she said.

“But it has also highlighted the importance of nurses – with the pandemic we are currently experiencing a worldwide shortage of nursing staff, with nurses being deployed to vaccinations clinics, screening clinics and wards that are opening to treat the extra patients.

“Now more than ever is the time to enter into this rewarding career and I’m so proud to play a role in teaching the next generation of nurses.”

For nurse Renee Petersen, becoming a nursing teacher was a natural progression after two decades in the field.

“Teaching is a part of nursing every single day. I was an emergency nurse for about 20 years – we always have new nurses come on board and my role was to provide guidance to less experienced nurses,” she said.

While working in the emergency unit, Ms Petersen completed Bendigo TAFE’s online training and assessment course and started teaching one day a week.

She also moved into new nursing roles, first as a vaccinator, then as an associate nurse unit manager at Bendigo Health’s vaccination hub and as a contact tracer with the Department of Health.

Ms Petersen says her work in industry provides students with greater currency and depth to their learning.

“Learning from industry-experienced teachers ensures that students gain current knowledge and understand current trends,” she said.

Providing real life examples and human perspectives to support clinical knowledge is a norm in Ms Petersen’s classes.

“For instance, when we learn about side effects of particular medication, rather than solely focusing on anatomical effects on the body and its organs, I encourage students to think about the patient as a person. Using my personal experience, we tease out the scenario and discuss how we might then support an impacted patient, such as providing a bed pan or a walking stick,” she said.

“I’ve had a really great response from my students with this approach. It helps to make the medical knowledge relevant and understandable for my students, and will have a real impact when they go on placement and deliver nursing care.”

Her experiences in the vaccination hub and in contact tracing provide additional insight into supporting the community with the ongoing vaccine rollout and the impacts of COVID-19.

“It’s very dynamic working in the vaccination hub and it’s a privilege to be able to assist people during this time. Some people have questions about the vaccine so I find it a privilege to be able to sit with them and provide clear clinical evidence and reassurance,” she said.

“Contact tracing is like the other piece of the puzzle. I have a variety of roles – interviewing a case, working out how they are going to isolate and coordinating all that for them. In the regional settings it can be challenging, such as figuring out how to get food and water supplies to people isolating rurally.”

Ms Petersen said that being a nurse whilst supporting others to embark on this career is highly gratifying.

“Nursing is such a satisfying profession with so many opportunities and ways to connect meaningfully with people,” she said.

“I’m eternally grateful for the jobs I have. In these times, especially with many people struggling with mental health, I get to go out every day and help somebody.”

For more information about Bendigo TAFE’s nursing programs visit our website.​

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