Redefining Nursing in Life and in Death

Project Officer, Lions Eye Donation Service
Organisation: Centre for Eye Research Australia

Redefining Nursing in Life and in Death. International Nursing Day logoMy family introduce me as ‘our daughter – she’s a nurse but not a real one’ – this usually follows with ‘you don’t work in a ward, so what is it you actually do?’

G’Day. I’m Heather Machin and I’m a registered nurse. I wear a lot of hats in the global community but my main one is as a project officer at the Centre for Eye Research Australia, a WHO Collaborative Centre for Blindness Prevention, at the University of Melbourne. I don’t wear a nursing uniform and I don’t work in a traditional clinical team in a regular hospital– but I am every bit an Ophthalmic Nurse.

With the exception of a part-time nurse injector, I am the only nurse of 100+ staff and students at CERA. Our “Multi-Disciplinary Team” includes scientist-clinicians, medical-scientists, statisticians, geneticists, orthoptists, public health specialists, communication and business strategists, optometrists, academics, and in my specific project area of eye banking: eye bankers, tissue bankers, bioethicists and biological health lawyers, immunologists and corneal surgeons.

I may challenge the pre-conceived concept of some die-hard traditionalists but it is important to highlight that there are lots of ways to be a nurse and sometime having nurses work behind the scenes can be very valuable.  Globally, we have nurses working in a wide range of ways, such as: research, hospital accreditation quality management, governance committees, ministerial committees, CEO and executive positions, and in direct localised service implementation.

What I love about the CERA (and my work as a consultant for Fred Hollows Foundation NZ) – is that I have never had someone say to me ‘you can’t do that – you’re a nurse’ or ‘you can’t have a say or be involved – or talk to that person’. I work in a team where my nurse qualities are valued and are complimentary to other professions. My employers and partners recognise that we each bring something to the table and our unique differences are essential. I am nurtured and allowed to explore, challenge and redefine the parameters of my profession and my role in blindness prevention and treatment.

Nurses are patient advocates. They have strong protective instincts and an intuitive and practical understanding of right and wrong. They know what it takes to get things done to protect all patients – even if it means protection against our very selves. Nurses behind the scenes are not always working at a cellular or scientific level (though some do) – instead they look beyond the microscope or the disease to the whole patient, their community and society in general.

I use my base nursing and ophthalmic skills every day in eye banking – a sector that has welcomed me and opened my eyes to the impact of one health service or vertical planning – on another. I am now challenged – personally and professionally – to consider if the rights of those with corneal blindness are more important than our treatment of deceased donors, or if donated tissue is better utilised in transplants today or in research for future treatments. These are big questions beyond this blog – but they highlight to me the importance of this year’s International Nursing Day theme “Health is a Human Right”. If indeed it is, then my role in advocating for the sick, dying and dead (who become corneal donors) is equally important as my role in blindness prevention. Like our multi-disciplinary team, they are interconnected and one does not exist without the other.

At home with the global eye bank community - 2015 San Diego World Eye Bank Symposium. (Heather centre)

At home with the global eye bank community – 2015 San Diego World Eye Bank Symposium. (Heather centre)