Welcome to this feature on the journey through nursing school from Enrolled to Registered Nurse by Luke Sondergeld, written for The Nurse Break.

nursing school

Luke runs Maintain the Rage, a Blog by an Australian Husband, Father, Nurse, Student, Scout Leader, and life long geek. His Blog is a reflection of his personal journey though Nursing School, career as a Nurse, life as a husband and father, struggle through Depression, and journey through Weight Loss.

I have been asked to write my story through Nursing School.

This story, however, does not begin at Nursing School; it begins almost six months earlier. It was mid-January 2016 and I found myself in the Emergency Department of our local hospital. I had been having some lower right quadrant pain for a couple of days and it had reached the point of being unbearable. A couple of scans later, it was found that I had appendicitis. I would require a snappy 30-minute procedure to remove it. I consented and we began the process.

When I woke up my abdomen was killing me and I had this weird bag hanging off my left lower quadrant. Turns out the pain I was having was due to ruptured diverticulitis. The doctors had removed about 12 inches of by descending and sigmoid colon and created a stoma. An operation that took nearly 6 hours, I was told later.

Needless to say, I had some time in the hospital, on my own, to think about everything. As I often do, I pondered where I was and what I was doing. I was unhappy with my current role as a Manager of a Café and Play Centre and felt I needed more direction in my life. I pondered on my love for medicine and the human body, I thought of all the jobs that go into health care, from the wardsmen right up to the specialist doctors. I honed in on Nursing as the care, time, and attention given to the patients was what I considered to be health care.

I asked several of the nurses how they came to be, and they all told me their journey through university, and when asked what would they change, almost all of them stated they would have done the diploma course before the bachelor. The idea is to learn all of the physical skills first, have the time to practice them, then learn all of the higher education stuff associated with the bachelor.

I started doing some research and found that my local University ran a Diploma of Nursing, and even had a pathway to then go onto your Bachelor. The whole process was going to take 3 ½ years from start to finish, full time, as opposed to 3 years for just the Bachelor. So I decided I would begin the Diploma at the Midyear intake of 2016 so I could begin my Bachelor in January 2018.

The Diploma was set out far more like a traditional school then the Bachelor was. I started Nursing School with a Vac Dressing on following a dehisce of one of my wounds, it was most certainly a conversation starter, and it most certainly made life interesting in the labs. We attended three days a week, from 0800 till 1600 where we would have classes, learn new skills, and practice them in a simulated ward. The education from the instructors was great, the hands-on simulator time was amazing to allow us to actually practise the skills. The entire Diploma really did prepare you for the Ward.

During my studies, I decided to try and engage with the University, participate more, and give back to the University that gave so much to me. I became the first VET (Vocational Education and Training) SRC (Student Representative Council) member the University had ever had.

I was asked to join the Student Participation and Retention Committee where the heads of the University and myself devised ways of engaging with the University body more and encourage those who were enrolled to be a bigger part of their University. I started and Chaired, and still Chair, the Diploma of Nursing Society, which not only organises and funds the Badging Ceremony at the end of the Diploma course for the students but also facilitates CPD (Continual Professional Development), assists with communicating with the University, and even provides a level of Advocacy for the students.

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Over the course of my Diploma, I had three placements to complete: a five-week placement in an Aged Care Facility, a two-week placement in the Community, and a final six-week placement in an Acute Setting. I learnt a heap from each placement. I learnt about compassion, timeliness when to be distant, the importance of self-care, patients are people and not tasks, death isn’t scary it’s beautiful, and families can be the hardest part of the care. I had the opportunity to polish all of my skills that I had learnt, I learnt a whole bunch of new ones, learnt a swag from varying staff along the way, and felt more and more at home as a nurse. I felt as though the Diploma really did prepare me for the floor. I began working full time at one of the local private hospitals on their Medical and Surgical wards as an Enrolled Nurse and continued to work full time through the next phase of my studies.

After a break for nearly four months, I commenced my Bachelor studies. The style of the study was COMPLETELY different. For starters there was the sum total of 12 days of face to face time in the ENTIRE BACHELOR, the rest was pre-recorded lectures, references to portions of the textbook, or some handouts stolen from other places around the web. The level of self-guided education was huge, there was little to no support from the instructing staff, and you had little feedback on your essays to indicate whether or not you were on the right track. However, I made it through, if only just.

In the middle of 2018, I had a sudden and severe decline into depression, it involved suicidal ideations and attempts. Luckily my wife had the forethought to take me to a psychiatrist. We tried a series of drugs and drug combinations, none of which were making huge headway, so the decision was made to have a course of ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy). To cut a long story short, the ECT worked to rid me of the acute suicidal patterns. What is also did was remove almost all memory from about May till about September of 2018. This made the two exams and several assignments that I had during that period difficult. However, I managed to make it through, and my overall GPS is 5.25 when considering everything that had happened, is pretty good.

Out of the blue, I received an email stating that I had been nominated for the VET student of the year. I thought it was a hoax, so I contacted the Department of Education directly who confirmed that I was indeed a candidate. Well, I was surprised. I considered myself a studious student but nothing out of the ordinary. As time went on the big night for the Central QLD finals arrived, and I won! I was the VET Student of the Year for CQ. I would go to Brisbane in the coming weeks for the State final. In Brisbane I met the other candidates and spent some time cruising around town. The night was spectacular, with great food, great entertainment, and the whole box and dice. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in winning the QLD award but was absolutely stoked that I even got a nomination, let alone winning the CQ award.

I made my way through the Bachelor. I completed the placements, two weeks at a smaller Regional Hospital, two weeks in an inpatient Mental Health ward, two weeks on a Private Hospitals Surgical ward, two weeks in the Emergency Department, and six weeks in Intensive Care. Again, each ward had its lessons on how to do things, or how not to do things. I picked up little skills, tricks of the trade, learnt about new equipment, new medications, and new procedures. Every placement was worthwhile, but I am still glad to be back at work, and being paid after all the weeks of not.

So now I am at the end of my current studies. I am waiting on a few results to come back so I can register for Graduation, send off for my Nursing registration, and finally practice as a Registered Nurse, not just an Enrolled one. In the meantime, and for as long as I can tell, I will continue to write, I will continue to share, and I will continue to invite you on the journey with me.

Maintain the Rage

Luke Sondergeld


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