Karen - Nurse Unit Manager

Karen - Nurse Unit Manager

 Today I am privileged to bring you an interview with Karen, a nurse with 15 years experience who moved to Australia from Ireland and has been working as a Nurse Unit Manager (NUM) for the past 5 years.


  1. Hey Karen, looking forward to chatting to you! How long have you been a NUM and where did you move to us from?

Hi I have been a NUM for nearly 5 years. I moved here from Ireland.

  1. Were you a nurse in Ireland? What made you move to Australia?

Yes, studied in Ireland and worked for 2 years on a surgical ward. GFC hit in 2007 and by 2008 my fixed term contract was at an end and no hope for more work outside of Dublin and I didn't want to move to Dublin. I have always wanted to see Australia so thought stuff it, took my savings and went.

Family history of leaving Ireland - both parents left in their early 20s as well, mum to the US then UK, dad to the UK which is where they met. I came to Australia and travelled around for a few months, worked agency in Sydney and then got a 3 month rural contract. After that things were looking worse in Ireland - public sector pay cuts (Croke park agreement, Haddington Rd agreement), hiring freezes so I reached out to a colleague whose uncle is a DON at Royal Melbourne.Got a job, and have been at Royal Melbourne ever since! Been an RN, ANUM, acting NUM, closed a ward, bed manager, quality consultant, opened a ward as the NUM.

  1. Wow! So when you moved to Australia were you on your own or did you come over with any friends or family? How did you find agency work? Any interesting stories? And how was working rural?

So I came over on my own, arriving in Sydney. Only knew 2 people here who were on a years career break and having a working holiday. I found agency work fun, I had problems getting registered (turns out my passport had my middle name spelt wrong!) So worked as an AIN for about 5 weeks. Did some private contact specialling, did some shifts in a private hospital where in there was one shift I had more experience than the nurse in charge and trying to help her but staying in my scope of practice...

Once I got registered I worked all across Sydney public hospitals did a lot in Manly hospital which was really cool getting the ferry to work . It was funny some of the wards were very uneven floored and an obs machine would just roll away from you! I also got into trouble once because I was being firm with a private hospital patient and getting him up and moving day 1 post op. When he informed me that he was paying for the bed and would be staying in it I came back with " well hope you can pay for an extra week for your hospital acquired pneumonia you will get", he asked to speak to the NUM and I was told I couldn't talk to private patients like that .

Rural hospital work was everything. The hospital had GP cover 2-3 days a week and the rest was tele-consultation with the base hospital in Dubbo. There were 10 aged care beds, 5 sub acute and 2 ED cubicles. I saw paediatric burns, crush injuries to the hand, a woman in labour, full cardiac arrest as well as dispensing methadone and administering depots. I gave IM antibiotics to a woman who refused to go to the base hospital and I couldn't get IV access in. I learned a little bit about post natal care with day 1 c-sections returning. Thankfully the community midwives managed most of that! One of the nurses kept trying to marry me off to her son who was my age, he was completely afraid of me  think it was the fact I was on the other side of the world and he had never been to Sydney!

I stayed rural an extra month as one of the other nurses kids got airlifted to the Kids in Sydney and they were short staffed. But by that point I needed something else so I got in contact with a colleague back in Ireland who's uncle is a DON at Royal Melbourne and the rest is history! Been at RMH for 12 years in May.

  1. Omg how awesome is that! So why did you decide to leave rural? Did you need a change from the full on responsibility? Did you get scared much being rural with limited support? I imagine you were pushed out of your comfort zone many times! Where did you begin your career at RMH?

It was very isolated and I was 23! I wanted to experience more acute nursing and knew I had gaps in my knowledge that needed filling. Rural pushed me to the edge of my capabilities some days, but many were monotony of aged care and it was lonely as a young person in a town where everyone at my age was either in the city or had a couple of young kids.

I began my career at RMH in MAPU. was there for a few months and then got a job on the colorectal ward.

  1. Did you make a decision that you wanted to be a NUM and if so how did you go about achieving it?

I initially fell into ANUM, I had applied and been accepted for a post grad in acute care which got cancelled due to lack of numbers. My DON came and apologised to me for the cancellation and asked me why I was applying. I said I wanted to be a manager and felt I needed it to be an ANUM. Incidentally at the time there was a new ward being opened and she suggested I apply for an ANUM role. From there I did a fair chunk of acting NUM about a year later and enjoyed it. I ended up as acting NUM when the ward got closed so had the experience of redeployment of staff and dealing with the emotional side of that. I was reappointed acting NUM when the ward reopened and learned and failed. Didn't get the ongoing position when it was advertised. Decided to get some more experience so got a job in quality for about 18 months. The person who got the NUM job actually became a great mentor and friend and when I got my current job as NUM really supported me to develop my skills. Just before I applied for my current NUM job I realized that I wanted to be a leader so I applied for my Master of health administration and completed that with Monash.

  1. Wow sounds like everything fell into place at the right time. Do you feel that your connections with your colleagues contributed to your successes?

A lot of things did happen at the right time. Even not getting the original permanent NUM role was for the best as I got to learn from an amazing mentor which helped me develop and the quality job gave me a different perspective on things and made a great network of people and made great friends as well.

It has been such a pleasure chatting to you and hearing your story Karen! Thank you for taking the time to chat to me.

If you would like to be interviewed or write a guest post for the Nurse Life blog please get in contact at nurselifeaus@gmail.com

Stay safe brothers and sisters!


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