Fiona Brink has nursing and midwifery in her blood – her mum loved being a nurse and midwife – so she was excited to begin her nursing graduate year as a 21-year-old in 2000 on a paediatric ward in a regional hospital.
‘I’ve always wanted to go into midwifery, I think I’ve always had a baby obsession – but enjoyed caring for others and had an interest in health and health-related subjects like human development and psychology,’ Fiona said about what attracted her to study nursing and midwifery.
But four months into Fiona’s graduate year, she was miserable and questioning her career choice. She felt bullied by her manager and graduate coordinator – and her confidence was slipping away.
‘There was lots of feeling inadequate, there was lots of being watched for everything, and that nothing I could say or do was right,’ Fiona said. ‘It wasn’t a friendly environment that you’d expect on a paediatric ward.’
‘It got to the point where I was driving to work in tears, driving home from work in tears and getting anxiety when I got out of the car to go to work about how I was going to be treated that day.’
Fiona contacted the ANMF (Vic Branch) and from the moment she met with her ANMF organiser, her working life began to turn around.
‘We talked through the issues and he talked about how it wasn’t proper treatment of anyone and especially not a graduate,’ Fiona said.
The organiser supported Fiona in meetings with her manager and the graduate coordinator, and then suggested Fiona take personal leave. While Fiona was on leave, a friend who was doing her graduate year at The Austin Hospital suggested that Fiona apply there.
The graduate coordinator at The Austin Hospital was one Ged Kearney – an ANMF Job Rep, who had been President of the ANMF (Vic Branch) since 1997, and would become Assistant Federal Secretary of the ANMF in 2002, ANMF Federal Secretary in 2008, President of the ACTU in 2010, and is now the Federal MP for Cooper. Ged provided Fiona with the welcome and support she needed as a young nurse, new to working life and to the profession.
‘They seemed to have better processes in place for supporting grads, starting off with more supernumerary days to buddy with someone and see the lay of the land, rather than “Here’s six patients – go deal with it”,’ Fiona said.
‘There were regular grad catch-ups to touch base and talk about how we were going. And Ged was always a face around the hospital and she’d spot people down at the café, remember their name and what ward they were on – and you could always ring her and go through a complex issue if no-one on the ward was available to help.’
Fiona went on to study midwifery in 2003 at Victoria University, St Albans, and then completed her maternal and child health nursing education in 2012. She worked at Sunshine Hospital for 14 years as a midwife, then clinical midwife specialist, and was employed in her current role, as a maternal and child health nurse at Maribyrnong Council, in 2017.
For the past 18 months, Fiona has been providing support to her ANMF member colleagues as a Job Representative. She and her colleagues reaped the benefits of taking protected industrial action in October 2019, which led to the City of Maribyrnong agreeing to a higher wage increase in their EBA.
Fiona brought her sons to a stopwork barbeque at Maribyrnong Council and they proudly held the ANMF banner in support of their mum and her colleagues.
For Fiona and the mothers and families who have received her care, it’s fortunate that she didn’t give up on a career in nursing and midwifery when her grad year got off to a sour start. She simply loves her job.
‘I love the primary health care focus (of maternal and child health nursing), that it’s education, it’s supporting families,’ she said.
‘And I love that you get to see the kids grow, from doing their home visit and following them right through, and then following families when they have their second and third child as well.
‘And seeing the parents grow in their confidence too, from “Don’t give me this baby, I don’t know what to do with it!” to enjoying parenthood.’