Eighteen recent nursing graduates of Mildura’s La Trobe University campus are now working in rural and regional communities including Mildura and Robinvale, and from Shepparton to Gippsland.

Of the 20 graduates who completed a Bachelor of Nursing in 2020, 15 are employed at Mildura Base Public Hospital, and the campus has just welcomed 38 new students who began their studies this month.

A new Diploma of Health Sciences is also being offered for the first time this year in Mildura, enabling eligible students to move seamlessly into degrees in nursing, health science and social work upon completion.

La Trobe vice-chancellor Professor John Dewar said the new nurses will be play a vital role in the health of rural and regional communities for many years to come.

“Regional communities are always in need of qualified, career-ready nurses who truly understand the needs of regional people,” Professor Dewar said.

“These graduate nurses have trained in Mildura and are now taking those skills back into rural communities, which is exactly what we always hope will happen.”

Professor Dewar said that La Trobe has always worked closely with the Mildura Base Public Hospital, and are looking to work more closely with them to help them address the workforce issues they are facing.

“The two students who are here today, are part of the most recent cohort of La Trobe graduates who have gone on to work at the hospital,” Professor Dewar said.

“Seventy five per cent of our nursing graduates come to work at the base, which is a fantastic achievement, but we want to increase the numbers and the percentage of nurses who choose to establish their careers here.
“We think that addressing the shortage of rural medical workers is one of the highest priorities that we can contribute to.”

Professor Dewar said that although nursing is career that attracts a significant number of people, the numbers could be higher.

“I think the experience of the last 12 to 18 months has seen the respect for the health caring professions sky rocket and a lot of people now want to be part of the sector,” he said.

“They see that there are worthwhile careers – great careers to be had in the health and caring professions. And we are certainly seeing healthy increases in the numbers of students wanting to study nursing and allied health with LaTrobe, which is very encouraging.”

Mildura Base Public Hospital CEO Terry Welch said that this issue a key priority of the new administration.

“You can’t run a good health service without a highly engaged, professional workforce and the key component to that is that we have to grow our own workforce,” he said.

“For too long agencies have relied on trying to recruit and the reality is that the pool isn’t there of these key resources.
“And so to be able to work so closely with LaTrobe, both currently and what we are planning in the future is very exciting.
“We are going to push and push to increase our numbers of students and give them great experience here, so that they absolutely know that we are an employer of choice and we want them to become nurses and one day run this health service.
“LaTrobe is an amazing partner of ours and we work very closely together and having Professor Dewar and the team here today is another example of that commitment and we are fiercely determined to keep moving forward with our programs so that we will have Victoria’s best workforce in Victoria’s best hospital in the future.”

Mr Welch said that the hospital currently employs around 750 nurses.

“It is a huge pool of nurses and people don’t realise just how big we are,” he said.

“We have a big number of staff, but it’s our vision moving forward, where it won’t be long and we won’t have any vacancies here, because of the work we are doing in student focus in giving great experience, people will want to work and stay in Mildura.
“One of the things that we are certainly talking to LaTrobe about, is the fact that, to become a centre of excellence, we have to think about how we actually train and support students, and that includes the physical environment.
“Currently the campuses are off-site with some disconnection, which isn’t the ideal model for us and so moving forward, we think that a united facility where we can have students integrated everyday in our health service, is the ultimate model.
“That’s going to take some planning and significant investment but we know the return will absolutely repay on that investment longer term.”

Bendigo based, Dean and Head of the La Trobe Rural Health School, Professor Jane Mills has responsibility for the four campuses that LaTrobe Rural Health school operates, which includes Bendigo, Shepparton, Wodonga and Mildura.

“I think it is excellent that it’s such a dynamic team here at the base hospital who are trialling new and innovative models for nursing and midwifery education,” Professor Mills said.

“I am a registered nurse as well, and my background was in rural nursing, so I know where they are coming from.
“I think the beauty of Mildura is that it is like a little laboratory, in that it’s small enough, that we can actually implement a change up here, and innovate in partnership with the base and the team here, and also look at what the outcomes of those are, and then see in realtime, whether or not we are making a difference.
“That’s what the LaTrobe Rural Hospital stands for – making rural health and well being matter.”

Graduate nurses Rhianna Smith 26 and Gini Tansey 31 are both working at the Mildura Base and are loving the experience.

“I’m a local and I decided to go back as a mature age student which was the best thing that I have ever done,” Rhianna said.

“I wanted to be really involved in the community and nursing definitely gives you that forefront connection.
“I recommend nursing as a career and I have specialised in the care of mental health patients which is a vitally important area.”

Fellow graduate Gini said that while nursing has its challenges, the rewards and opportunities in taking on such a career path are really worthwhile.

“I’m also a mature age student, and I came here from Brisbane and was looking for a career change, and so it was perfect that we had LaTrobe here,” Gini said.

“I always wanted to be a nurse and the situation in Mildura allowed me to do that, which was perfect for me and has worked out well.
“I know it may sound like a cliche, but for me being a nurse is about being there for people in their vulnerable times. I always wanted to work in an industry where I was helping to care for people.”