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Epic careers in caring for others

Nurses Karyn Holwell and Lois Foley have spent 46 years at NHW

Karyn and Lois stood in front of the wall covered in photos honouring nurses through the years at NHW.
Karyn Holwell and Lois Foley in front of the wall honouring nurses through the years at NHW. They are in the black and white photo of three nurses towards the top.

Karyn Holwell and Lois Foley have spent almost 50 years as nurses at Northeast Health Wangaratta (NHW) and both remain passionate about their careers.

The pair, along with 14 other girls, began their training in August 1976 at Wangaratta with eight making it through to graduation in 1979.

For Karyn it was the realisation of a dream. “I always wanted to be a nurse,” she said.

“It was an esteemed training school where, under the guidance of principal Fred Smith, we worked hard to attain good marks and learn practical nursing skills.”

For Lois, it was a different route to a career.

“I never really wanted to be a nurse, but I didn’t get the marks I wanted to get into university for my other career choice,” she said.

“But even though it was not my first choice, I have never regretted going into nursing and I am very proud to say that I trained at Wangaratta Base.

Living in the nurses’ home for three years created lifelong friendships for both, and the group remains close and has regular catch-ups.

“The nurses home was locked each evening at 10pm and we had a supervisor in the home from 5pm to 10pm,” Lois said.

“Board was $6.00 per week, which included three meals a day including a cooked breakfast and all uniforms and linen laundered. You can’t find that nowadays!

“Another member of our group, Kim, is now my sister-in-law as we married brothers at the completion of our training.”

Karyn agreed it was great time to be starting out.

“There was also plenty of fun and recreation such as tennis on the hospital tennis courts, gatherings at the hospital pool and, of course, the nurses balls, which were held twice a year,” she said.

“They were always well attended and had a reputation as a great night out.

“The hospital cafeteria was the central meeting place as the entire hospital dined there. It was like belonging to one big family.”

During their three-year training, nurses were rotated around all the departments to give them exposure to all areas of nursing.

“John Paul Larking male surgical ward was one of my favourite wards, and where I met my future husband,” Karyn said.

“The male patients who were hospitalised for weeks in traction were often pushed out onto the balcony for some sun and, of course, to have a cigarette.

“Smoking was allowed in the hospital back then and one of the nurses jobs was to empty the patients ashtrays.”

Karyn developed a love for emergency nursing and that’s where she has continued her nursing career.

“After I completed several emergency courses over the years, it was at the NHW Rural Critical Care Course, coordinated by Deb Hobijn, that gave me the greatest overall knowledge in complex nursing care,” she said.

“The 1970s and 1980s saw a lot of road trauma at the hospital prior to the completion of the Hume Freeway and the introduction of compulsory seat belts.

“We’ve gone from doing manual tasks such as cleaning the pan room sinks and taking a patient’s vital signs manually to using haemodynamic monitoring and ventilators and more complex nursing care.”

Lois said she loved her training days and getting experience in all areas of the hospital.

“Nursing has given me many wonderful career and learning opportunities and positions in the hospital to develop my nursing, management and leadership skills,” she said.

“I was also very fortunate and proud to win the Inaugural WB Richardson Nursing Excellence Award in 1992, and the Excellence in Leadership award in 2015.”

Lois is now the Nurse Unit Manager of the Operating Theatre and the Sterilising Department.

“I was moved to the theatre at the end of my training, much to my disappointment as I loved working as a medical nurse and always thought that would be my career pathway,” she said.

“I quickly grew to love working in the operating suite with the variety and diversity that each day brings.

“I have been the manager for many years in the OR and continue to enjoy and be inspired by all members of the team.”

Likewise, Karyn has come far in her chosen path and has been an Associate Nurse Unit Manager (ANUM) for 30 years and, more recently ,part time relieving ADON.

“We have outgrown our ED over the last 30 years and are looking forward to moving into our newly renovated department over the next few weeks.

“The acuity of our patients has increased, along with presentations via our triage door, and ambulance presentations.

“Regional Urgent Care Centres are seeing fewer ambulance presentations now as they are directed straight to NHW ED.”

Both said the COVID -19 pandemic had created some of the biggest challenges they had faced and that continues today as staff strive to provide best practice in care for their patients, but through it all it was the people around them that made it worthwhile.

“There have been incredible people throughout the hospital who have influenced my nursing career, encouraging people filled with a vision and passion for improving care and knowledge,” Karyn said.

“Working in a team environment where every team member is treated with respect, kindness, courtesy and encouragement and committed to delivering exceptional health care is why I love working in our ED.

“I have loved my nursing career and our hospital and the opportunities they have given me.”

Lois said she was blessed to be working with “the most incredible team of staff both in the Operating Room and in the CSSD as well as in the wider hospital and community settings.”

“I find it an absolute privilege to work with and lead such an amazing team who deliver wonderful care, compassion and kindness to their patients and their colleagues.

“I also take great joy in seeing the less experienced members of our team develop and grow into professional skilled clinicians and leaders of the future. We are in good hands!

Karyn and Lois both recommended nursing as a career to others looking for a rewarding, at times challenging but always interesting career that provided so many opportunities.

“It is so satisfying and rewarding to help others in their time of need, and ED is committed to delivering excellent care and seeking to improve ways to provide that care,” Karyn said.

Lois agreed. “Absolutely, nursing provides so many opportunities in such a variety of areas,” she said.

“Sometimes it can be extremely challenging on those really tough days, but it also can be just as rewarding on those even tougher days.”

Wangaratta Chronicle Friday 25 November 2022 – Article by Shane Douthie and photo by Kurt Hickling.