‘I’m doing everything in my power to get enrolled nursing recognised as a career in itself,’ says Catherine Drago. ‘I think it’s often seen as a stepping-stone to doing your RN, but there’s so much more to it than that.’
Catherine is an enrolled nurse educator at Peninsula Health’s Community Care Unit (CCU), and is currently putting the final touches on an advanced diploma majoring in mental health that will soon begin accepting enrolments.
Nursing was a career Catherine was always interested in, but straight out of high school the timing wasn’t right. ‘I went into uni, and did medical biophysics instrumentation,’ she says. ‘I got through a semester and thought: oh my god, what am I doing? I don’t belong here.’
Finding her place
Instead, for the next decade or so, Catherine worked at Swinburne University. ‘When the time was right and I finally got into nursing, I did the diploma,’ she says. ‘And I had no intention to work in mental health at all, but I did my placement at the Community Care Unit at Peninsula Health and I just knew it was my spot. It’s an amazing place, very recovery-model focused, and it just felt right. I absolutely loved it.’
After that placement, Catherine vowed that she would work at the CCU one day. But when she graduated, Peninsula Health wasn’t offering an EN program. Instead, she went to Monash Health, and began her nursing career in acute youth work and the secure extended care unit before spending several months working as an organiser with ANMF (Vic Branch). ‘That wasn’t for me,’ she says.
Dream job, worst timing
Not long after realising that the union organiser role wasn’t the right fit for her, Catherine saw a job ad for the CCU. It was her dream job but it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
‘My dad was terminally ill and in hospital, and when the ad came up I said to my partner “I don’t think it’s the time; I can’t apply; it’s too much.” But she said to me: “oh my god, you have wanted this your whole career; you’ve got to just go with it.”’
So Catherine applied and scored an interview – on the day of her father’s funeral! ‘I ended up doing the interview the week after. I don’t know how I got through it, but I did. And I got the job.’
Catherine loved the job as much as she expected to, but admits she’s the kind of person who feels like she needs a new challenge as soon as she gets comfortable. ‘So I decided to do my Cert IV in training and assessment through the ANMF,’ she says, ‘and then a job as an enrolled nurse educator came up at Peninsula Health.’
Taking a leap of faith, she applied and has now been in that role, and loving it, for 12 months. As the enrolled nurse program had not been run at Peninsula Health for a while, Catherine has developed the whole program from scratch. ‘It was really exciting and daunting,’ she says.
‘Now it’s sort of like it’s my calling. I’m doing everything in my power to get enrolled nursing recognised as a career in itself. I think it’s often seen – in mental health, and I’m guessing in general as well – as a stepping-stone to doing your RN. But there’s so much more to it than that.’
Pursuing her conviction that there ‘should be more recognition for enrolled nurses’, Catherine began developing the advanced diploma. She has been working with a registered training organisation to develop the program, which will comprise 10 units, seven of which will have a dedicated mental health focus.
‘That is more than registered nurses get doing their Bachelor of Nursing,’ she says. ‘So it’s just huge. And really exciting.’
Catherine expects the program to be up and running with its first cohort of ENs by October. It wouldn’t have been possible, she says, without the support of her manager, Stuart.
‘He’s very innovative, and sees big-picture stuff. This sort of thing excites him so I’ve entirely got his backing and support. I don’t think it would have happened if I didn’t have that sort of support from management. I’m just wrapped.’
All going to plan, from October the new EN mental health nurses will be too.