Meet Registered Nurse – Dr. Narelle Biedermann, who is a Senior Nursing Lecturer / Academic and former Army Nursing Officer. Nurse, PhD, Senior Lecturer at JCU, writer, military & nursing historian, mother, wife, metalhead – Narelle has done so much!

Read Narelle’s other article here about her career as a Senior Lecturer, Author and her tips for new nurses “Former Army Nurse Now Educating Our Future Nurses


I started my nursing degree in the first intake of undergraduate nursing students at James Cook University in February 1990. Around 120 of us started our degree (at the time, it was a Diploma of Health Sciences but upgraded to a Bachelor of Nursing Sciences the following year), and around 60 of us graduated in December 1992. I was accepted in the Honours program and completed that in 1993. I began working as an RN in aged care whilst I was doing my Honours project, and then upon completion of that degree, I worked in surgical, ED, and ICU at the Townsville General Hospital for two years before commissioning as a Nursing Officer in the Australian Regular Army.

I was a military brat, so I grew up all over Australia. The closest I had to a ‘home’ was Townsville, where my parents chose to stay when my father discharged from the Army after 20-odd years of service. I loved going to new schools and living in different homes.  

Now, I work in academia and I love education and research. The majority of my clinical experiences were in military nursing, as both a uniformed and civilian RN.

I have had quite a fun and interesting life. I am very blessed. Two fun facts that few people will know about me: I have held an Oscar (Academy Award) and I have been in Penthouse. Now let me tell you the story about each because they are not what they seem!

When I was on a book publicity tour for my first book in 2004, I had a TV appearance at a studio in Sydney. While I was waiting in the green room, I met Adam Elliot who had just won the Academy Award for Harvie Krumpet. I had my newborn baby with me at the time, and he jokingly laid the Oscar in my arms so that it was laying against my daughter’s body and he wrapped her little hand around it … so I guess, theoretically, SHE held the academy award, not me! It was quite a moment (the Oscar is actually very heavy!). Unfortunately, this was before the era of selfies and social media, so there’s no photographic proof!

And now to Penthouse. Okay, so I personally wasn’t IN the magazine in all my glory. Rather, a story about my second book appeared in the October 2006 edition. It was an excellent article, telling some great stories of the enormous courage and gallantry of our servicemen and women that I featured in my book. It caused quite a lot of fun for a while at work when people began hearing about my ‘feature in Penthouse’!

Army Nursing Officer

Tell us about your experiences/time as a Nursing Officer in the ADF?

Prior to taking a commission as a Nursing Officer in 1995, I was a medic for five years in the Army Reserves. I loved being a medic. At the time, my unit was very active and I spent most of my uni holidays out field providing medical support to training activities. This was great preparation for my time as a Nursing Officer. While I secretly thought about becoming a Nursing Officer, I was convinced to take a commission by my Commanding Officer at the time who thought the Army could use my education and experience better as a Nursing Officer than sitting in a canvas RAP in the rain at Land Command Battle School in Tully!

Kapooka Medical Company

As it hadn’t stopped raining the entire time we had been in Tully, I was easily convinced! My first posting as a Nursing Officer was to Kapooka Medical Company at 1RTB in January 1995. In that posting, I worked on the wards for the first year and was Nursing Officer in Charge of the outpatients and resus area in my second year. I really enjoyed Kapooka, as it was a very busy job with an enormous variety of patients and clinical care.

On the wards, the Nursing Officers (and civilian RNs) used to work 24-hour shifts; 24 hours on, 24 hours off. We had a great team of medics at varying stages of their professional development, so there was a lot of on-the-job mentoring and support, which sparked my interest in education. The facility provided round-the-clock medical support to recruits in training and staff at the recruit training battalion. Every day was different.

1st Field Hospital – Sydney

My second posting was to 1st Field Hospital in Holsworthy. They had just shifted from an old, pre-Vietnam era hospital in Ingleburn to a large, modern facility on Holsworthy Barracks. It functioned as an in-patient hospital with theatre and acute care facilities, through to outpatients supporting the Army units in the greater Sydney region. Behind the hospital was the field hospital component, whose primary job was to train and prepare for the provision of Level 2 medical care in the field in training and operations.

I had one year on the wards, and my second year in a treatment section in the field hospital element. This was a great job too. This was where my time as a medic came in handy, as our treatment section used to deploy to support major exercises such as Tandem Thrust. It wasn’t such a culture shock to nurse under canvas wearing the same set of cams for a week.

Army Collegiality

What I especially loved about my time in the military was the collegiality and true life-long friendships. I am still in contact with many of my Nursing Officer colleagues and medics that I had the honour of working with. After leaving the Regular Army, I worked as a civilian RN for several years until I settled into academia.

Military nursing is a speciality all to its own in my opinion. In any given situation, you have patients with an incredible array of presentations: medical, surgical, orthopaedic, gynaecological, and psychiatric. In emergent situations, we can encounter trauma cases much like you would see in busy civilian metropolitan hospitals. In field situations, you are part of a team providing high-quality care in often austere conditions. That’s exciting and challenging.