Career path: clinical nurse specialist (trauma)

August 2016 Vol. 16 (4)

“Get a master’s degree” is the single most important piece of career advice, believes clinical nurse specialist KATRINA O’LEARY, who discovered her love of study on arriving in New Zealand and is now contemplating her PhD.

NAME: Katrina O’Leary

JOB TITLE: Clinical nurse specialist, Trauma Service, Bay of Plenty District Health Board

Nursing qualifications:

  • Diploma of Health Science (Nursing) 1990 (La Trobe University, Northern Campus, Bendigo, Australia)
  • Bachelor of Nursing 1996 (Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia)
  • Postgraduate Diploma in Nursing 2011 (Wintec)
  • Master of Nursing (Distinction) 2014 (Wintec

Briefly describe your initial five years as an RN.

Initially I worked in a regional hospital in Victoria, Australia, on medical/surgical/paediatric/emergency department (ED) wards, which was a fantastic experience. In 1993 I headed off to the Kimberley region of Western Australia to do remote area nursing for six months. On my return I did a critical care nursing course, worked in ED for a year, then left for Perth to pursue a career in intensive care for the next 10 years.

Did you have a career plan (vague or definite) on becoming an RN? And how did those first five years influence your subsequent career?

I always wanted to be a nurse, but I don’t really know why. If I had my time again, I’d consider being the costume designer for a major ballet company. That’s not to say I wouldn’t still choose to be a nurse, but reflects the opportunities now available for women.

My first five years’ nursing didn’t really shape my career. I went to the Kimberley because a friend told me it was paradise (I shouldn’t have listened!) and I only did the critical care course because all my closest friends were applying.

When I moved to New Zealand I was introduced to the postgrad study culture here, which was a surprise, but one I welcomed and relished. I’m planning on starting a PhD in the near future. Although most colleagues think this is a form of madness and torture, I see it as career planning. How long can I work full-time in nursing and still be effective? I don’t know. Therefore my PhD will fulfil my research passion, and reduce my hours – or at least allow me to put in the hours I want to put in – not what a contract tells me I have to.

What led you into your current field or specialty?

After moving to New Zealand I found I’d had enough of intensive care and was excited at the thought of returning to ED. While working in ED I was interested in the trauma patients and decided to research a few trauma-related topics through my postgraduate diploma. Then a position opened up for a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) in the Trauma Service.

What qualifications, skills or stepping-stone jobs do you think were particularly helpful and/or necessary in reaching your current role?

There is no specific qualification for becoming a CNS for trauma. The critical factor in my gaining this position was my experience in critical care areas, including collecting data in Perth for the state’s trauma registry. As a result of my role I now belong to several trauma professional groups, including the Major Trauma National Clinical Network, the National Trauma Nurse Network and the Australasian Trauma Network.

What personal characteristics do you believe are particularly important for nurses working in your role?

You need to be able to work autonomously and utilise your time well. Since I started my CNS role has expanded exponentially and so it is critical to have good time management skills.

Being humble is also important. I care for people who have faced adversity and survived. They are often left with the impacts of their traumatic event (be they physical or emotional scars) and recognising this, and what they have gone through, is incredibly important. Humility is also important when communicating with my peers as this isn’t a job I can do alone.

Good patient advocacy is an important skill, not just for the patient currently in my care, but for future patients, which means having difficult conversations with peers in order to make changes and keep up with international guidelines.

What career advice would you give to nurses seeking a similar role to yours?

I believe the single most important advice is to undertake a Master of Nursing. This enables you to reflect on who you are as a nurse and what you need to change in order to improve. I had been nursing for many years when I started my master’s and I didn’t realise the personal growth it would bring.

An interest in research is also essential. I collect data on 1,500 patients per year and can use the information gained from this data to contribute towards some exceptional research papers in injury prevention.

Communication is absolutely critical to the success of my role and is essential for patient care delivery.

Describe your current responsibilities.

My CNS role is multi-faceted. One of the key areas is case management of the severely injured. My case management involves, but is not limited to, a needs assessment, a review of radiological studies (to pick up on injuries missed because of distracting injuries), liaison with the patient and their family, ensuring appropriate referrals are made and early discharge planning.

Data collection is a large component and is undertaken on most trauma patients admitted to hospital. This data contributes to research, including my own, published in national and international journals.

I contribute to community-based injury prevention initiatives through outreach programme presentations and I develop trauma-specific protocols and policies for the DHB to ensure care is based on current evidence-based practices.

I participate in local and regional trauma initiatives and in national trauma strategies as I am currently part of a national trauma committee.

Another part of my role is education, mostly at a patient’s bedside or through informal dialogue with my colleagues, but several times a year I present at local study days, regional meetings and at conferences across Australasia.

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