When the World Health Organisation declared 2020 to be the Year of the Nurse and Midwife, no one could have guessed how relevant it would be as it is today. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we depend more than ever on the dedication of nurses and other health professionals. Many nurses in Australia are not just at the frontline of providing critical care, but are also moving into new and different areas to ensure we have access to reliable health advice, to help us deal with the virus.
Nicole De Vera, a second year Bachelor of Nursing student with Torrens University Australia, knew about trends in Tele Health, but didn’t expect to be working in the field. That changed in March 2020 when she joined the team of 500 nurses staffing Victoria’s COVID-19 hotline.The hotline assists callers with queries about their symptoms and gives advice about what to do if they need medical treatment.
‘At its peak, just when the lockdowns were announced, calls were coming in non-stop. When I first started, we were getting 35,000 calls a day,’ Nicole explains.
‘Every time I put the phone down, another person would call. This was the time when so many people were getting infected. People would call up and ask for our advice and we would actually assess them over the phone.
‘We’d go through an algorithm, recording what symptoms they had, and working out if they were eligible to get tested. Then we talked about what they could do next. That might be going to their GP, going to an emergency department, or to a COVID clinic. It really depended on their situation. Also, we had to consider if they had a high risk of being infected. During the peak, you might be at high risk if you had been travelling overseas, for example.
‘Some people just needed reassurance.’
In Victoria, the curve is flattening, and the calls have slowed. Now, in mid-April, Nicole isn’t needed on the hotline so she’s able to focus on her studies, her family of four children and a very supportive husband, and her work as a community nurse. If the need arises, she’s ready to go back to the hotline, but she sees it as a positive development that fewer people are calling in.
She is also reflecting on her experiences in recent weeks.
‘This was my first job as a Tele-Health nurse and to start with I was very scared because you know, it’s hard assessing someone over the phone. But I did it and I managed,’ she says. Nicole offered expert advice, reassurance and helped ease people’s fears. She might also have saved at least one life by her skillful assessment of a caller’s condition.
‘I had one caller who really made me think outside of the box. Straight away when he called, I could hear that he was very breathless. He was well enough to call me, but I could tell that this situation could be serious. I asked him, “Can you call the ambulance now?” I was very concerned for him because he couldn’t breathe properly and I encouraged him to call the ambulance as soon as he put the phone down from talking to me.’
With her nursing experience, her Diploma of Nursing, which she gained in 2015, and studying for her Bachelor degree now, Nicole was offered a position on the hotline as soon as she applied.
‘They were training everyone immediately to get us started as soon as possible. And then when lockdown started, we all had to work from home. It was a crazy time in the first few weeks. That’s why they hired nurses as we have that background in diagnosing symptoms; we have an idea of what we’re dealing with.’
‘It was hard working from home because in some cases I’d have to put customers on hold and phone our support leader. When we were in the office, she was always there and you could ask for help straight away. I had times when I was actually pretty scared and once, when I hung up after a situation was resolved, my hands were shaking.
‘Being on the hotline is very stressful, but at the same time, it’s exciting because you learn new things every day. That’s part of being a nurse, whether you’re working with patients face to face or over the phone – you learn something new every day.’
‘Nursing’s a very fast-paced job and, as we can see all over the world now, it’s one of the most important careers in any type of crisis. You help people, you change lives, you meet different people every day and build relationships with people who start out as strangers.’
Nicole says thoughtfully, ‘For everyone now it is a scary time. We need to keep our social distancing and practice hand hygiene. I guess we just have to pray that they can find a vaccine. We all need to really commit to it taking the situation seriously and do everything that is being asked of us.’
If you want to find out more about starting your career in Nursing, where you will learn something new every day, visit https://www.torrens.edu.au/courses/nursing.
Next intake for Bachelor of Nursing students is in September 2020.
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