Sisters doing it for themselves – Carolyn Nixon

CarolynNixonWhen Carolyn’s sister, Michelle White, looked into doing nursing about 15 years ago and found out it was a degree, she thought it was too scary back then. Michelle’s motivation to study at university was to have a career post family and to be able to work alongside her husband in the primary care industry. Once Carolyn enrolled, her brother in-law told her to convince Michelle and with only a week till cut-off she applied. They were both accepted and the rest was history.

This began a three year journey of sisters doing it for themselves as they navigated university life as mature-age students, managed full-time workloads and undertook nursing placements to put into practice what they learned in lectures.

“Take advantage of the support university offers”

Carolyn revealed that in her first semester she often wondered, “What the hell did I get myself into? But you just solider on”. In her first year, she was involved in the School of Nursing Mentoring program in which later year students assist commencing students with the transition into nursing. “We were lucky to get a wonderful 3rd year student who gave us all the tricks and tips and made life a lot easier”.

Her mentor gave her the biggest inside tip of her university experience. “She advised us that it was really hard out there to get jobs and kept saying don’t think you are going to get opportunities in nursing without a decent GPA”.

“You need to start getting prepared very early and ensure your resume and information is all up-to date. That way you are able to add to it over the course of the three year degree”.

Carolyn soaked up every piece of advice throughout her degree and in third year participated in an eye-opening Community Nursing trip to Laos. With a grant from the Griffith Honours College, Carolyn travelled with her fellow students to Mekong River Valley to run clinics in the local villages and provide and teach basic healthcare to the residents. “We would set up in the local schools and halls in the villages, see up to 200 people a day and tend to basic health ailments”, Carolyn explains admitting that the overseas experience opened her eyes to how little people could live on and still be happy in their own environment.

With graduation gearing closer, the reality of finding a job after university in a difficult and competitive marketplace started to play on Carolyn’s mind. After applying to Queensland Health and private hospitals in September last year, the process of interviewing for positions wasn’t all smooth sailing. “I went for an interview at Mater Hospital in private cardiology and Princess Alexandra for the Emergency Department but I missed out on both positions. My application was sent to the permanent nurse pool and I received a position with the Accelerated Graduate Program for six months”.

“You can have the best GPA but blow the opportunity with a bad interview”.

After going through her own employment process, she knows firsthand how stressful and competitive the experience can be. “My sister applied for the Mater and PA as well and didn’t even get an interview. She eventually got a call from the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Hospital and got her dream job working in the Emergency Department”, Carolyn explains as she reflects on her own interview experiences. “My interview experience with the Mater Hospital involved role plays where you were assessed in diagnosing a patient, participated in group sessions to evaluate how you interacted with others and had a one-on-one interview process”. “You can have the best GPA but blow the opportunity with a bad interview”. “Carolyn advised that interview techniques can be practiced with anyone – even the dog!”

So next time you feel nervous about an upcoming interview, grab the closest person, animal or inanimate object and start talking.

Since commencing her new role the past six months have been crammed with learning competencies, dealing with the acute nature of medical situations, never knowing what is going to come through the door and coping with the reality of shift work, but most importantly putting all the knowledge from the nursing degree into practice. Later this year, Carolyn will move from the hospital setting to work with her GP husband in a local clinic focusing on chronic disease management.

“I have the achievement of finishing, something that was always a very scary thought as an older person.”

Carolyn also decided to pay it forward by becoming a nursing mentor and now supports one of her Griffith mentees at the Princess Alexandra, offering the same invaluable advice which was unveiled to her as a first year. So looking back six months after graduation, how does Carolyn feel? “I have the achievement of finishing, something that was always a very scary thought as an older person, thinking will I be able to cope? And I can say I did cope and did better than I thought”. And when any doubt creeps up, remind yourself to just keep swimming.


Top Tips from Carolyn

  • Keep GPA up
  • Take advantage of the support the University offers
  • Have everything related to your degree and career sorted early and keep adding to it throughout your degree


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