Meet our nurses: Gillian Newham

How long have you been at Very Special Kids?

I’ve been working at Very Special Kids for a little over five years, I started in December 2014.

What is your background and what were you doing before Very Special Kids?

I commenced my nursing training over 30 years ago, and since graduation, I have practiced in various fields of nursing. I have worked as a psychiatric nurse, in plastic surgery and orthopaedic surgery. I had a short break from my career until both of my children had started school, and then just prior to joining Very Special Kids, I was working in adult palliative care, neurology and as a district nurse.

What’s unique about your role?

Paediatric palliative care is a specialised field in itself. Not everybody has the will or desire to work in palliative care, let alone paediatric palliative care.

What attracted you to working at Very Special Kids?

When I first started working in adult palliative care 13 years ago, I realised how much I loved it. I found that I was passionate about my work in this field, something I never thought I’d consider when I started my nursing career. I have always found it a privilege and honour to nurse someone at the end of their life, and to be given the opportunity to extend compassion in support of a grieving family. I love that I have the opportunity to provide quality holistic care, where the focus of care is not just on the symptoms of a disease alone.

I had heard about Very Special Kids and was interested in seeking opportunities to extend my knowledge and experience. At a time when my workplace was restructuring, I decided it was a great opportunity to make the transition into paediatric palliative care.

What do you love about your role?

Apart from the holistic aspect of palliative care, I love the fact that what we do makes the difference between a child experiencing a potentially traumatic and painful death, and a dignified and peaceful death. There really isn’t anything more rewarding than knowing you had a part to play in that. Being able to navigate families through the process is not always easy, but the gratitude they show us for what we do – I’d do it all for free. It truly means far more to me than any amount of money I could be paid.

What’s something others might not know about your role?

I have found that there are many misconceptions in the general community about Very Special Kids and paediatric palliative care. I often hear “I couldn’t do what you do”. I usually explain to these people that what we do significantly impacts how these children live the end of their lives, and the care we provide will support them through the process of dying with the aim to have them ‘die well’. It’s all about how you frame it for others. I find that this explanation leads to a clearer understanding and appreciation in regards to the source of my job satisfaction, and my ability to work in an often challenging work environment.

What is it that gets you out of bed every morning to come to work?

I love the kids; they brighten everyone’s day. I look at what they and their families deal with in their lives daily, and realise I’ve got nothing to complain about. I love being with the kids and I love working with our team. We’ve got a great team and I consider them my friends. Above all else, I love nursing. It’s all I’ve ever done and I’m sure it was all I was ever meant to do. It’s in my DNA.

What is a hospice achievement that has been special to you?

When I received the ‘Quiet Achiever Award’, as part of our Very Special Employee Awards, I felt valued, recognised and appreciated for my contribution to the team. When you work as a part of such a small and close team, to be rewarded in this way is meaningful and special.

What’s your top tip to those who are having a tough time or day?

I believe it’s important to open up and share what you’re struggling with, rather than carrying the burden on your own. I find just talking with others, whether that be family or work colleagues, is so valuable. Practicing self-care and self-love is also critical.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in Brisbane, Queensland, in 1971 and I have one younger sister. Our family relocated, with my father’s work as a social worker, to Toowoomba when I was 14 years old. It was here that I completed the remaining years of secondary school and then my general nursing training. I was accepted into the second last intake of hospital trained student nurses at Toowoomba General Hospital in 1989, before university training commenced the following year. I loved my training, as we learned through constant clinical ‘hands on’ exposure for three years, gained invaluable knowledge and experience, developed a broad range of clinical skills and grew up very quickly. I graduated as a registered nurse in 1992. The following year, I commenced an 18 month psychiatric nursing course at Baillie Henderson Psychiatric Hospital, Toowoomba. At the completion of this course, I travelled overseas with a colleague and met my husband. He resided in Melbourne and so I relocated here in 1995. We married in 1996 and had two children, a son who will be 23 this year and a daughter who recently turned 20. Our dog is a beautiful 12 year old cavoodle with cardiac issues and enough medications to fill a dosette box!

In my spare time, I enjoy being creative. I’m currently undertaking a three-year part time Diploma in Jewellery and Object Design through Melbourne Polytechnic. Developing the skills required to be a jeweller is far more difficult than I expected, however does satisfy my need to be a perfectionist.

If you weren’t a nurse, what would you be doing instead?

I can’t really imagine doing anything else. As a child, I always had plans to be a pre-school teacher, however this all changed for me in year 12. I had visited family in hospital frequently that year, and became intrigued and inspired by the nurses. So nursing it was and still is. No regrets.