22 May 2020

A smile a day the heartbeat of frontline nurses and midwives

| Michael Weaver
Join the conversation
ACT Nurse of the Year Chris Harris.

“Whenever you’re smiling and having a laugh, you know that you’ve got a really good work environment,” says ACT Nurse of the Year Chris Harris. Photo: Michelle Kroll, Region Media.

After watching a news report about a woman with multiple sclerosis, Chris Harris answered the call and decided to become a nurse, although having a mother and grandmother who were both nurses may have also influenced his career choice.

This week he was named Canberra’s nurse of the year. Chris, technically a clinical nurse consultant, says a smile and a laugh are the keys to being on the frontline of one of the biggest health challenges his profession has seen.

Chris works in the University of Canberra Hospital’s Stromlo Ward and, surprisingly, with more than 10 years’ experience in the field, he told Region Media there is nothing unique about working with the added pressure of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re part of a really strong workforce that has risen to the challenge,” Chris said.

“Of course there’s a lot of uncertainty and fear, but we’ve stepped up to the plate like every other service. We’re not really sure what’s going to happen next, but this is what we’re trained to do. Our jobs haven’t really changed, there’s just added awareness.”

That awareness has also led to the Stromlo Ward achieving the highest rating in a staff culture survey under Chris’s leadership.

“This award is not just for me, it’s for my whole team. At the moment we’re working really hard to get amazing patient outcomes and staff culture. Without them, I would not be in this position.

“We always celebrate achievements across all disciplines and ensure gratitude, positive feedback and recognition are always passed on.”

Aside from getting hospital patients healthy, Chris says the most important part of the job is a team approach where everyone is heard.

“We’ve been able to implement strategies that ensure we maintain optimal and safe patient care, but we’ve also created a work environment that people love coming to each day.

“Whenever you’re smiling and having a laugh, you know that you’ve got a really good work environment. It’s a privilege to be with staff who are happy to come to work despite the long hours, the shift work and personal sacrifices you have to make.”

Award-winning nurses

From left, midwife of the year Kathy Coonan, excellence in quality improvement/research winner Nikki Johnston, and excellence in educational practice winner Rachel Bilton-Simek. Photo: ACT Health.

A neonatal midwife at Calvary Public Hospital Kathy Coonan was named the ACT midwife of the year. Kathy also comes from a family of nurses and said her sister and mother are her inspiration while caring for premature and sick babies.

Kathy began her career as a midwife in Canberra in 1983 and was instrumental in setting up the Newborn and Parent Support Service at the Canberra Hospital in the mid-1990s. This program allows premature babies to be discharged earlier with skilled neonatal clinicians caring for the family in their home.

The team of the year award went to a pair of passionate voices who specialise in preventing suicide.

Britt Shephard and Shannon Narracott are registered nurses in the emergency department at the Canberra Hospital. The pair organised the 2019 Suicide Prevention Ball that raised more than $41,000 for the Black Dog Institute. They are now working towards the development of a national mental health and counselling program.

Shannon Narracott and Britt Shephard.

ACT Nursing Team of the Year, Shannon Narracott and Britt Shephard. Photo: ACT Health.

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said the annual awards celebrate the work nurses and midwives do each day to contribute to the health and wellbeing of the Canberra community.

“Our nurses and midwives have a great impact on the lives of people in our community. As we face the challenges of COVID-19, nurses and midwives across our health system have not wavered in their community to deliver high quality, person-centred health care,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

The ACT Health Directorate’s chief nursing and midwifery officer, Anthony Dombkins, said the winners were well deserving of their awards.

“International Year of the Nurse and Midwife celebrates 200 years since the birth of Florence Nightingale who was regarded as the founder of modern nursing. Florence Nightingale was known not just for her technical skills and expertise but more so for her trailblazing efforts in social reform and her nurturing, caring approach,” Mr Dombkins said.

Other award-winners include:

  • Nikki Johnston, a nurse practitioner at Clare Holland House who specialises in palliative care (excellence in quality improvement and research practice award)
  • Heather Needham, senior manager of patient experience for Canberra Health Services (excellence in leadership practice award)
  • Mercy Lukose, clinical nurse consultant, Ward 11B, Canberra Health Services (excellence in management practice award)
  • Rachel Bilton-Simek, palliative care educator, Clare Holland House (excellence in educational practice award)
  • The Ward 11A team who specialises in the care of the elderly, Canberra Health Services (excellence in clinical practice award).

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.