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CQUni knows Tania

Get to know Tania Parkinson

My name is Tania and I’ve completed a Bachelor of Nursing and most recently, a Master of Mental Health Nursing at CQUniversity in 2015.

When I first started my undergraduate nursing degree I was at another university. I did about a year-and-a-half, but they didn’t offer me the flexibility of placements and online learning.

I transferred to CQUniversity – it’s the flexibility that makes the difference. I could study everything externally, work, and also have time for my family. Being a mum with five children and a husband, I needed to be able to study in my own time, at my own pace. I had the flexibility to do that when I started mid-year; I could just pick up where I left off in my degree and carry on. It took me six years to finish my Bachelor of Nursing degree and I graduated with distinctions. I also applied for and received a full scholarship from the Australian College of Nursing in 2014 for my Masters.

CQUniversity had some electives in mental health, so I decided to take one in my undergraduate degree. I met one of the professors and started talking to him about the subject – his approach was fascinating. He was incredibly passionate and knowledgeable. He was also professional and there were things that he really blew me away with. I was hooked! So, I took all my electives in mental health. My placements in my final year were also all in mental health.

Previously, I always said that I would never go into mental health: I had a lot of judgements that I had to overcome. There are misconceptions about mental health, like how people who have a problem might be bad or might be poor. Mental health affects everybody. It doesn’t discriminate. There are plenty of professional people working as lawyers, doctors, police officers, who have a mental health condition and they are able to go about their everyday lives just like you and I.

Postgrad studies definitely stepped up a notch compared to undergrad, and that was very exciting. There was freedom to specialise in an area I am very passionate about. I was going through the content of the Masters once and realised that what I was learning really started to come into play on a day-to-day basis in my working life. For example, understanding about research and where certain statistics came from.

My beginnings weren’t the best and I was often told I couldn’t accomplish anything… at uni, I was the student at learning support every week because learning didn’t come easily to me. I had to persevere and really work hard at it. I would contact the Academic Learning Centre and send them drafts of my assignments to get feedback. To succeed in this field, you need perseverance. You don’t have to be the smartest person or have a photographic memory, just perseverance. You also need to be a good listener. You need to have compassion for the human condition and a non-judgemental approach.

I could also contact the lecturers on a regular basis. The majority of the lecturers I came across were very supportive. Often, if I was in a regional town and there was a campus there, I would go and sit face-to-face with a lecturer. They were experts in mental health: Some were clinicians like me, working in the emergency department. Some worked in the community – so they had hands-on experience and up-to-date knowledge.

There were times where I really didn’t think I’d make it. But, I remember the day I had my CQUniversity ceremony for my Masters and they made such a fuss of you – it was really nice. I remember going up on that stage, getting my certificate and thinking ‘this is mine and I earned it!’ My family is amazing and I think it was a really special moment. My husband was there supporting me… my children were there supporting me – they saw their mum with her cap and gown on, getting her qualification, becoming a nurse and then working in a job that she loves.

A masters is about being recognised in your field as a professional and as a specialist. There’s a difference between working on the ward to working in the community. More autonomy is required. The qualification helped my career by allowing me to move forward and experience more senior positions. I was able to go from being a registered nurse to a clinical nurse in a specialist field with more responsibility. When I achieved the Master of Mental Health Nursing, it was recognised by my employer and I was also given a pay rise.

I began working on the ward in an in-patient unit in a regional town. A number of years later, I moved to Brisbane and worked in mental health in one of the city’s busiest hospitals. First I worked on the ward, then I went into the community and now I either work in the community or in the emergency department.

Someone might be brought into the emergency department by ambulance, the police or by a relative. They might have taken an overdose and be lying in a hospital bed receiving medical care. I go to their bedside and do an assessment. I might ask them what brought them into the hospital and if they have any pre-existing mental health conditions. I check their sleep patterns, and what their mood and appetite are like. I assess their risk factors: Do they have access to further means to hurt themselves? What are their expectations? Do they want to go home? Do they want to have follow-up support? Do I have to report to Child Services in the case that children are involved? So, I listen to their story, work out a plan with the consultant psychiatrist and team, and determine whether they need to be admitted for further care or whether they can be discharged with follow-up support.

I just love to help people. The most rewarding thing is the people you get to meet – they are incredible and some of their backgrounds are unimaginable. It can be someone that has had a really difficult time; you’re there to listen and to tell them that mental health is treatable. We can give them back their quality of life – it’s humbling. I love to walk alongside them on their journey. I like to make a difference in their lives.

I’m now considering doing a PhD, something to do with risk. I’ve been talking with one of my professors at CQUniversity about the tightrope we walk on in terms of when people are assessed, the follow-up in the community and just how we can work better as mental health practitioners.

Everyone has a story: I believe mental health tells the human story.