For the past 10 years, Samantha Ingram has travelled all over Canberra as a community carer with Hireup, “helping people with an intellectual or physical disability live their lives like anyone else”.
“I visit their houses, help them get out and about and basically just promote their independence – helping them do things that they can’t necessarily do themselves,” she says.
But, the whole time, she harboured a dream.
“I’ve always wanted to be a nurse but never really had the confidence to think I can do it.”
Well, Samantha is on her way there now, thanks to a $10,000 Impact Grant from her employer.
Hireup teamed up with Australian super fund HESTA and The Achieve Foundation to award six $10,000 grants to support both people with a disability and support workers looking to grow their education, employment or professional development.
Samantha moved from the UK to Canberra in 2012 and became an enrolled nurse. She now has two children from a previous relationship and looks after them every second week while also supporting her partner, who has medically retired from the police force with PTSD.
He encouraged her to leap at the opportunity and apply for the grant.
“I was like, ‘I’m not going to get that – there are so many other people who deserve this’, but then, ‘What have I got to lose?'” she says.
“So to then be shortlisted and then actually chosen – I still can’t believe it.”
Time and money have prevented her from pursuing registered nursing up to this point. A bachelor’s degree in nursing is three years of full-time study, costing between $24,000 and $50,000, although some hospitals provide scholarship programs and paid study leave.
“I was horrified when I found out the cost,” she says.
Because the degrees are a mix of theory and practice, she would also have to take time off work to complete placements – effectively working full-time without pay.
“As a single mum with two kids and a partner who needs care, how am I supposed to put food on the table and petrol in the car?”
Now, with a $10,000 grant to make a “huge” dent in her tuition debt, she has already applied to study at the Charles Sturt University (CSU) and Australian Catholic University (ACU) campuses in Canberra. And her plans don’t stop there.
“I love to travel, and I’ve looked at how I can help other people whilst travelling. And one of those jobs is nursing. So by doing registered nursing, I have more skills, more knowledge, and more scope to progress my career.”
There’s another reason, too.
“I guess it also stems from wanting to help my clients more,” she explains.
“There are so many things I don’t know – like when they need help with a wound – and all I can say is, ‘well, you’re going to have to see the doctor or go to hospital’. I don’t want them to have to go to hospital if they don’t need to.”
Over the next three years, the nursing industry in Australia is expected to grow by 13.9 per cent, according to the Federal government’s employment projections. But the shortage of healthcare staff isn’t going away anytime soon, especially in Canberra where the situation has been described by the ACT branch of the Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation (ASMOF) as “chronic”.
So Samantha has a message for those dealing with the impacts of this in the meantime.
“We do this job because we care,” she says.
“People forget about that sometimes, especially when they’re complaining about the Canberra Hospital situation, and how ‘this happened’ or ‘this didn’t happen’. Sometimes nurses get it wrong, but a lot of the time, we don’t have the time we need to do the job we want to do.”