Dedicated Health Worker, Coral Aitchison

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Working 48 years as a nurse (RN) – 34 of those with Port Macquarie Private Hospital, there’s no doubt Coral Aitchison loves her job. This dedicated health worker shares her insights into the changes she’s witnessed in the nursing industry over the course of her career, as she prepares for her well deserved retirement later this year …

Hi Coral. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I came to Port Macquarie with my husband soon after we were married in 1974. He worked as a Radio Announcer for 2KM. I worked for 4 years at the Hastings District Hospital, then took up a position at the Port Macquarie Private Hospital in 1978. I am now into my 34th year of service there.

What are the various roles you’ve held at Port Macquarie Private Hospital?

When I started, we were called ‘Sister’ – now we are called a ‘Registered Nurse’. One of my roles was as the Deputy Director of Nursing (Matron) for 14 years. I have worked mostly Medical, Surgical, Post Natal and Rehab. After 40 years of nursing, I decided to return to the ward as a Registered Nurse. I gradually reduced my working hours and now work 3 days a week, two of these in the Pre-admission Clinic doing Orthopaedic and General Surgical Admissions and one day back on the ward.

What prompted you to think about a career in nursing?

As a child, when my parents took me along with them to visit a family member in the local hospital, I found myself fascinated by the nurses going about their duties and how they cared for their patients. My older sister was a nurse, and I knew this was going to be my career.

I completed my General Nursing at Muswellbrook District Hospital and Midwifery at King George V Hospital in Sydney. After my Midwifery training, I stayed on at King George V  for 12 months working in the Neonatal Intensive Care Ward.

My next move was to Merriwa District Hospital, where I worked for 4 years, becoming the Deputy Director of Nursing at 24 years of age. Being young, I wanted to see more of Australia, so I moved to Alice Springs, where I worked for 12 months in Maternity and the Neonatal Nursery. While there, I learnt a lot about the lifestyle and culture of our Aboriginal people.

From here, I went to Moree, where I worked for a few months at Moree Hospital, before moving to Port Macquarie 38 years ago.

What are some of the major changes you’ve experienced in your career over the years?

When I started nursing, we had a lot of cleaning/catering duties, as well as our hands on nursing duties. The meals came to the wards in a bain-marie, and the nurses served each portion to the patients; we also served suppers to the patients.

Testing a urine was a real challenge; now it is done with a dip stick. Medications are always changing.

I enjoy working for Ramsay Health; the changes they have implemented at Port Macquarie Private Hospital have improved working conditions for the better.

With better equipment to work with now, our workload is so much easier – particularly with improved Occupational, Health and Safety measures now implemented in our hospital and a no lifting policy.

What has been the most rewarding part of your career? The contact with people?

Yes, I enjoy the contact with my patients/customers and colleagues, and I believe it is very important for us all to greet each other with a smile and a “Hello, how are you today?” introducing ourselves to our patients. I’ve seen a lot of sadness, but also seen so much happiness and joy – especially when I have helped to bring a newborn into the world.

How much has the Private Hospital changed since you first started working there?

The Private Hospital had 50 beds when it opened in 1978. As the demand increased for more beds, another 12 private rooms were built, then a further 16 private rooms were added a few years later. P.M.P.H. now has 69 beds and offers specialised services with Rehabilitation, Renal Chairs and a High Dependency Unit.

Would you still encourage people to take up nursing these days? Do you still think it’s a valid and rewarding career choice?

Definitely. I trained in the hospital system, and we had the advantage of being paid during our training.

Today, nurses have a university degree and only get to spend a few weeks a year in the hospitals doing work placement.

I would like to see the students spend more time in the workplace. There are so many opportunities for further nursing studies today; you can specialise in all areas of nursing.

After a 48-year career, you’re thinking of retiring. What plans have you made?

I hope to travel more, also continue to join my ‘Lunchalot’ friends for our weekly lunches after Pilates and become more involved with the Breast Cancer Group in our local area. I’m sure I will keep busy.

Thanks Coral.

Interview by Jo Atkins.

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