Nurturing the maternal bond

Nurse Fionnuala Tate says she has a lot to squeeze into the 30-minute consultations she conducts with her clients.

Nurse Fionnuala Tate says she has a lot to squeeze into the 30-minute consultations she conducts with her clients.

Yesterday, before she clocked off, she assessed the development of an eight-week-old baby, which meant checking developmental indicators such as the shape of the baby's head, its reflexes, eye movements, height and weight.

She also devoted time to tasks such as inquiring about the mother's emotional wellbeing, briefing her on what to expect in the next few months, explaining handouts and connecting her to relevant resources in her area.

Tate says it's typical for her to go through this type of process with 13 clients a day.

"It is all worthwhile when you receive positive feedback and feel you have supported a parent as they navigate the early weeks of parenthood and beyond," she says.

Tate is a maternal and child-health nurse at Kingston City Council. She says the main aim of her role is to support families and children (from birth to school age) by providing developmental assessments, making referrals, promoting health and providing social support.

"There's been a perception in the past in the community that maternity health is just weighing and measuring babies but there's so much more to it than that," she says.

Tate became a registered general nurse in Ireland in 1978. Since becoming a maternal and child-health nurse in 1989, she has worked in a variety of roles, including a stint training healthcare workers at a remote mission station in Papua New Guinea, teaching at Footscray College of TAFE and working in Kensington with high-needs families living in public housing.

"The role ... gave me the opportunity to explore and experience other avenues where my qualifications were required but I didn't necessarily use them in the context of direct service delivery," she says.

Tate's career as a maternal and child-health nurse at Kingston spans 11 years. In the past few years, she's made the transition from consulting with special and additional-needs clients in their homes to consulting with clients predominantly from the maternal and child-health centre where she is employed. She says the arrangement reduces travel time and allows her to see more clients.

Having direct client contact is intrinsic to her job satisfaction.

"Other girls aspire to do co-ordination, team leadership and more senior management roles within local government, but that's not what's going to give me satisfaction," she says. "The satisfaction is here in the office on a day-by-day basis, listening to the stories of the different clients every half hour ... It's the client that keeps me where I am."

After 35-odd years in nursing, Tate says she finds it difficult to conceive what life would be like without it. But retirement isn't on the horizon yet. And nor need it be, she adds. A number of her colleagues are proof you can have a nursing career past retirement age. "We had a nurse who retired not long ago and she was 70," Tate says.

"And we have another nurse on staff who is 70 and you would not know it. She rides a motorbike."

Kingston City Council maternal and child-health nurses are required to participate in ongoing professional development.

SALARY $40-plus an hour, plus super.

QUALIFICATIONS Besides being a qualified nurse and midwife, Tate has a diploma of applied science in community health nursing (maternal and child health) and a graduate diploma of education.

LINK kingston.vic.gov.au.

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