Robyn Knight was recently presented with an award for ten years of valued service to the Armidale Private Hospital. She tells us about her nursing career and describes her dedication to the treatment of patients with sleep disorders.
> How long have you lived in Armidale?
All my life. I was born in the Armidale Hospital and grew up just north of Armidale at Tilbuster, on a little property at the foot of Mount Duval. My parents, Ron and Lorna Maguire moved the family to Laureldale Farm at UNE when I was in high school, so we were onsite for Dad’s work at the poultry farm.
I went to Ben Venue School back when it was still on both sides of Rockvale Road and then went to Duval High. I have very fond memories of my very first job as office assistant with Paul and Gwen at Killen’s Smash Repairs, before I was accepted into Enrolled Nursing.
> Where did you train to become an Enrolled Nurse?
I began nursing when I was 17 in Inverell and then returned to Armidale Hospital once my training was completed. I tried a few other types of jobs. All were caring/medical type positions, like vet assistant, EEG tech and with what was then Hilton Nursing Home and the Home Care Service, but eventually returned to the Armidale Hospital.
> Why did you choose nursing?
I think back then it was simply an opportunity for a reliable career, and Enrolled Nursing didn’t require a HSC. Funny really, but I wasn’t very fond of school and study back then.
I have since found caring for others immensely rewarding and satisfying. Some of the friendships with other staff that I made as a young nurse still remain very strong, and no doubt some of them will be helping me celebrate my graduation. I could tell a few stories about night duty in the medical ward that would make you smile … but I’d better not.
> Tell us about the sleep disorder unit?
I worked mostly night duty, particularly after the arrival of my two daughters Jess and Kirsty, so I spent a lot of time observing patients sleeping.
It was very clear that patients’ conditions could change dramatically, often for the worse, once they fell asleep. It was during this time that a visiting Professor spoke at a Division of GP meeting about Sleep Apnoea. I just happened to overhear one of our local physicians saying that what was really needed to be able to provide monitoring and treatment of patients with sleep disorders was some interested physiotherapists or nurses.
I certainly wasn’t going to let an opportunity like that pass, and from this chance meeting back in 1996, Dr Gary Baker and I have worked together to develop the service we have today.
> How long have you worked at Armidale Private Hospital?
In 1999, after the redevelopment of the public hospital, the Sleep Unit didn’t really have a home. We were carrying out our sleep studies with all our monitoring equipment on trolleys that we parked in the lift lobby outside of a procedure room where our patient slept.
It was far from ideal, with cables running under the door and a full workload on the ward to carry as well, but boy … we learned how to problem solve quickly. It was after the opening of the new Armidale Private Hospital that negotiations began, and quickly we were welcomed as part of the team.
It was a step in faith at the time – leaving a permanent position in the hope that the Sleep Unit would give me the career I was hoping for. I am proud to say that only last week I was presented with a beautiful gift, badge and certificate by our Director of Nursing, Mary Single to celebrate 10 years of service. And what an amazing ten years it has been.
On a personal level I have seen both my beautiful daughters grow into lovely young people and start their own careers. I have overcome a long period and an enormous battle with illness with the support of my husband Robert, my family and many wonderful friends.
On a professional basis, my long standing colleague Lorna Patton and I have seen the Respiratory Failure and Sleep Disorders Unit grow from 4 studies per week to regularly carrying out 10 studies per week. We have 5 staff and around 2,000 patients having been diagnosed and treated.
We have seen technology advance to allow us to treat much more severe respiratory disease and with much more comfort for the patients. I have completed a Sleep Technologist’s course at Sydney University and an internationally recognised accreditation as a Sleep Technologist, and my proudest achievement – my degree.
> What degree is it that you are about to receive?
A Bachelor of Biomedical Science. Sounds impressive, don’t you think? It was Gary Baker who encouraged me in the beginning and gave me the confidence to attempt such an undertaking. Maybe if I knew back then how much was involved I would never have taken it on, but ignorance is bliss, they say.
Remembering that I had not completed an HSC and was the very first one in the Maguire family to attempt tertiary education, it really was a step out of my comfort zone. I was also much older than many of the other students, and then I had health problems (with long courses of treatment that made me very ill) to deal with. The lecturers at UNE were amazing in how they assisted me in achieving my goals. I can’t believe I have actually made it. I certainly wouldn’t have, had it not been for the support of the private hospital management, my family and my friends.
I remember I hadn’t had my head out of the books for weeks and being so stressed by the workload and deadlines that my dear sister in law, Kerry sat me down with my books and continual cups of coffee while she proceeded to tidy, clean, iron and restore my home to some sense of order.
So it took me longer than others (seven and a half years), but I have learned so much – mainly that there is so much out there that I don’t know and no-one will ever understand fully. I do feel, though, that I have so much more to offer patients in my care.
> What are your plans now you have completed your degree?
Enjoying not having the pressure of study! Definitely to continue in the work I love. I am enjoying time to do things like physical culture classes and have the time to support Kirsty now that she has begun study at UNE.
I’m not thinking about further study at the moment, but it does get into your blood a bit.
> Thank you Robyn.