MICHELLE BLACKWELL - CRITICAL CARE NP
An emergency department nurse for 25 years, Michelle is a mother of four and a passionate locum Critical Care NP who works for Nurse Practitioner Locum Solutions.
Nursing has taken Michelle and her family across the east coast of Australia including a stint travelling around Australia with her husband, kids (including her four month old baby) and Monty, the dog! With a husband that is also a critical care nurse, working for the Royal Flying Doctors Service as a flight nurse, Michelle and her family have experienced an exciting life sharing their medical expertise across Australia.
Michelle and her family’s journey took them to Bundaberg in Queensland, Larnook in northern NSW, and back again to Melbourne, which brought her to the Alfred Hospital. It was at the Alfred that Michelle was able to work with a dynamic team of NPs and it provided the opportunity to work alongside colleague Tash Jennings who she now works for in her role as an NP with Nurse Practitioner Locum Solutions.
Gaining her NP qualification in 2011, Michelle set up the NP role at Bairnsdale Hospital in the emergency department and at the Bays Private Hospital on the Mornington Peninsula.
Can you share a little about the community you are working in and the nursing you are providing to patients?
The communities I work in are very welcoming and are right behind the valued service we provide to patients.
Being an NP, we’re focused on the big picture - ensuring the community is taken care of in the long term. When I work in rural hospitals, there is a wide range of patient needs including anything from palliative care, mental health management, elderly patient supportive needs, and traumatic injury management and I need to draw on a wide range of skill sets to ensure I provide the highest level of patient care.
We are focused on having good relationships with other hospitals including any receiving hospitals; this helps to ensure the best outcomes for our patients. I had a patient that was critically unwell with a respiratory illness and once we transferred the patient to the receiving hospital the doctor called me and commended me for my professionalism and accuracy, which made me thankful we are here to help in these rural areas where health care is often limited.
The role of a locum NP is fantastic. We work in rural and remote hospitals that cannot get a committed medical workforce often due to funding restrictions, GPs unable to commit further or the fact that there is a lack of medical teams available. NPs are employed on an on-call capacity (Friday night 8pm to Monday 8am) and have sole medical cover for the whole organisation including the emergency department, acute wards and the nursing home.
I don’t see myself as anything special, I am here to provide the care the community deserves.
What is unique about your role in the community?
In my role as a locum NP, there is no limit or restrictions to who I can see, - I look after every single person from palliative care patients through to new babies, trauma, sepsis, minor medical concerns and any health issue in between, big or small.
I have to recognise my limitations, however, I get to use my skill set to its full potential and I love the diversity of this role, and it is very rewarding me.
For example, I had a patient that had a stroke, and I was able to manage this presentation and make a positive change that possibly saved this guys life.
Equally important to me, I was able to hold the hand of an elderly lady while her husband passed away peacefully from cancer.
When I had my first arrest in my current role as a locum NP- I felt the initial sense of urgency, and then I went in there and worked with a wonderful team of nurses, treating him appropriately, managing to save this man’s life - 2 weeks later he was discharged home, back to his family with no long-term deficits. That part of the role is particularly rewarding.
Why did you decide to become a nurse?
I went through high school and got to the end of grade 12, aged 17, and had no idea what to do. On the encouragement of my mother who reasoned that I would always have a job as a nurse, I decided to go to university in Rockhampton and completed a nursing degree.
The first 2 years of my nursing career I dabbled in a whole range of specialities including emergency, infectious diseases, transplants, orthopaedics and cardiology. I then moved to Victoria and found a job at Frankston Hospital Emergency Department. From here, my love of emergency nursing was cemented.
I love how every day is different and unpredictable, you never know what is going to come through the doors next. No two days are the same.
I found that with the emergency department usually being the first port of call for a patient when they have a medical issue or emergency, you can make a massive difference to someone’s' health journey. Being that positive influence in health care really appealed to me, and I found I was drawn to ED roles over the past 25 years of my career.
What are you hoping to achieve in your current role as an NP?
Being a locum NP, I am primarily working 60 straight hours over a weekend, with guaranteed complex cases. This means each weekend that I work is very challenging – physically, emotionally and mentally.
In the short term, one of my goals is to continue to expand and strengthen my knowledge base so that I can continue to give a high level of care to the communities in which I am working. Health care is an ever-evolving environment, there is always something new to learn. You must be committed to life long learning.
I love being able to mentor the staff and educate them, and I am driven to get the awareness out there about the NP role and break down some barriers and share what is possible.
So far I have encouraged five people to become a NP, and that is pretty powerful. I hope to continue to advocate for the role and encourage passionate RNs who want to build on their nursing to explore the world of becoming an NP.
If you weren’t an NP, what would you be doing?
I am a leader and I love educating. Through a mentor, I have fallen into a role of lecturing, and I am currently delivering some lectures to paramedic students at Monash University, which I really enjoy. Perhaps I’ll end up continuing along this path which would complement my role as a NP.
I often think about what else I would be doing if I wasn’t in the world of nursing which can be a job that is unpredictable and at times very physically draining, not to mention the impact it can have on family and social life.
I do know that I would love to work ‘normal hours’ and spend more time with my family and friends, who aren’t shift workers. Being on call can be exhausting, but I have chosen this option as I can work an entire weekend and then have the rest of the fortnight off to be with family. It’s a great work/life balance.