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Rural Northwest Health has welcomed 16 newly qualified registered and enrolled nurses into our Graduate Nurse program for 2021. The Graduate Nurse Program is an optional next step for graduates to gain valuable hands on experience while receiving support and building a strong foundation for their career.

Rural Northwest Health Clinical Educator, Breanna Stonehouse encourages students to participate in the graduate program experience as your first year as a qualified nurse can be quite daunting and Scary. “Apart from the peer support, the graduate program we offer allows them to build confidence, skills, and guidance with the support from the education team as well as preparing them for leadership and the responsibilities of being a nurse in a rural environment,” explained Ms Stonehouse.

Feedback from graduates so far highlights the support they are receiving from the Rural Northwest Health team and the significant differences they see from having either studied or completed placement in metropolitan locations. Completing a graduate year in a rural location is going to provide me with a unique opportunity to be exposed to a lot of different skill sets that I may not have received in a metropolitan location explained graduate nurse Mounir, who has relocated from the western suburbs of Melbourne.

Graduate program participate Kathleen Gillahan said that having studied in Melbourne she realised that she was most passionate about rural health care. “Growing up in a rural town I really wanted to come back to get the rural experience and use my skills to better the healthcare system and hopefully make a difference” explained Ms Gillahan.

While 2020 has seen its share of challenges, the impacts on the health care industry and in particular the nursing departments has made the recruitment and retainment of nursing staff in small rural hospitals like Rural Northwest Health quite challenging. “Despite the obvious changes to the way in which hospitals function due to COVID-19, we have witnessed a substantial change in the recruitment of Graduate nurses through the impacts of student placements.” Said Ms Stonehouse.

On average, Rural Northwest Health accommodates around 150 students a year and employs around 18 Registered and Enrolled Nurses into our Graduate Program. These figures have been steady across the past 2-3 years. 2020 has seen a dramatic decrease in nursing placements with only 52 students completing and 115 students cancelled due to Covid-19 lockdowns. This has had a massive impact on recruitment as in previous years several of our graduates had completed placement at Rural Northwest Health and then applied to return through the graduate program.

2021 has started with its own challenges however, we have been incredibly lucky to have secured 16 great Graduate Registered and Enrolled nurses for our program. Given the effects of 2020 this is great for our community as we have not only upskilled and retained current employees, but employed nurses from other areas across the country.

Prior to studying nursing, program participant Paul Coffey worked for Rural Northwest Health as a Personal Care Assistant in Yarriambiack Lodge. Mr Coffey said it was a natural progression to study nursing and when offered the chance to come back and work at Rural Northwest Health in the graduate program he very happily accepted the offer.
“Having former team members and students wish to return is a credit to our wonderful clinical team that have given them exposure to a range of areas and aided in providing a positive experience,” said Ms Stonehouse.

From an education point of view, Rural Northwest Health have been very fortunate to secure additional funding from the Department of Health to employ more team members in our Education Department. This has allowed us to significantly increase the support network for our graduates and bring new knowledge, backgrounds and experiences to the team.

Ms Stonehouse believes the new graduates are a wonderful inclusion into our small community, they bring with them their enthusiasm and readiness to learn into our caring, supportive health service that is Rural Northwest Health.

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