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My Story about dealing with AHPRA
In June 2017, I was taken to my local Emergency Department under an EEA after contacting LifeLine who had contacted the Ambulance.
I had feelings long-standing of hopelessness, worthlessness and was ambivalent to whether my life was to continue. That day was the day I had decided it was enough, however the guilt of the collateral damage I would cause stopped me and I contacted the service. I had plans to end my life, plans to not seek help and to carry on as I was using work as a distraction – a coping mechanism – “just keep working and help as many as I could” and ignoring the looming cloud that was depression.
At the time, I was a new Clinical Nurse in a busy metro Emergency Department. I was high-functioning, logical and thrived in the chaotic environment. I was a fixer. My colleagues would remark that I am so “calm” and was always there when someone was having a hard time. No one knew I was suffering.
Upon arrival to the hospital I was incredibly anxious, the paramedics gave handover to the nursing staff and I had a full medical work up and was cleared for mental health review. Whilst the details remain very hazy, I have a distinct memory of the Emergency Registrar who had just reviewed me saying to the nurse “Suicide is akin to Homicide, if she will hurt herself she will hurt someone else”. This remark made me incredibly anxious – Was I a danger to others? I had never harmed or wanted to harm another person in my life! What had I said or done that made him say those words…
After a few hours I had convinced myself I would just like to go home, go to bed and sweep it all under the rug. I saw the Psychiatric Registrar who saw right through my repeated “I’m fine, I’m just having a hard time” and “those thoughts are stupid, I would never do it” and was subsequently admitted to an Adult Mental Health Facility for a period of 2 weeks.
Upon discharge, returning home and navigating life after discharge, I had an A4 yellow registered post envelope on my bench. About 4 weeks after the “incident” I had been reported to AHPRA for “reasonable belief that another health professional is putting patients at substantial risk of harm due to an impairment”.
I immediately contacted my nursing union in desperation about what to do next and was assigned legal representation. I truly believe if it was not for the help of my union and the legal representation who acted on behalf of me, the investigation process would have been impossible to navigate.
What followed was a prolonged, drawn out investigation over the course of 3 years to prove myself, my character and my capability to practice as a Registered Nurse. I felt guilty until proven otherwise, except I was guilty of seeking help.
Seeing my own psychiatrist and psychologist regularly knowing they would have to write reports back to AHPRA on my mental state took its toll as I felt I couldn’t truly discuss my thoughts, feelings and emotions in an honest way and just “played the game”. After months of this, I was sent another dreaded yellow envelope, this time advising me I would need to attend an AHPRA approved Psychiatrist and undergo an longitudinal assessment in my states capital city – about an hour and a half from where I lived.
Upon arrival at the clinic, I was asked to provide urine and hair samples for drug testing prior to seeing the Psychiatrist which were not outlined in the letter. Calling my solicitor, I was advised to provide the samples – not that I had anything to be concerned about – however it remained intrusive and punitive to say the least. I found myself constantly thinking “this is why I should have never asked for help” which in hindsight is understandable at the time but since living through it I have found an entire army supporting me in the background.
After a 2 hour assessment, I was sent home, and a month later another dreaded yellow envelope – on the last page of the 11 page report, I was deemed “fit to practice as a Registered Nurse”.
The final processing of my investigation was lengthy, anxiety-riddled and slow and arguably detrimental to my mental state. The final call from the NMBA Board was relieving and the panel wished me well in my future endeavours. Since that time, I have progressed in my career and work as a Clinical Nurse Consultant in a large Emergency Trauma Centre and lead a team of incredible humans.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, I promise. It looks very, very small but it does get bigger and brighter. It can be hard to ever want to reach out for help again, why would you?! I know I vowed once or twice to “never talk to anyone again”. But accepting that your mental health is a priority and making your mental health a priority are two separate hurdles.
I always promised myself I would use that awful time for good one day, to help others and writing this is the start.
Reflecting on my experience, I have 3 takeaway tips
- Join a union if you haven’t already (they do come in handy sometimes)
- Keep a recording of your CPD, PPI and anything related to renewing your registration incase you are ‘randomly selected’ for Audit
- You are not alone (even if you feel you are).
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