Near, far, wherever nurses are …

  • Marie Bottolfsen at her desk

Marie Bottolfsen 

Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association

APNA's Transition to Practice Program is supporting nurses new to primary health care, no matter the distance.

When Marie Bottolfsen started working as a primary health care nurse, there was no one to ask for support or advice. She used a textbook brought from the United Kingdom.

That’s partly why Marie has taken up a role as mentor in the Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association (APNA) Transition to Practice Program (the Program), tailored to provide new primary health care nurses with the benefit of her experience and support. Marie’s in a position now to answer the type of questions she had when she started primary health care nursing 15 years ago.

“A nurse going into the hospital will get systematic training and support whereas for a graduate going into a general practice there’s nothing,” says Maria, who has worked as a registered nurse for the past 35 years in the UK, U.S and Australia.

“There is no structured training in general practice – it can be quite random where one graduate gets support and the other doesn’t,” she said.

Nurses new to primary health care can feel isolated, unsupported, and overwhelmed, whether they are just starting out in nursing or have transitioned from the hospital setting. The Program provides 12 months of education, support and mentoring, funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.

It is particularly relevant in the Northern Territory (NT), where Marie is based and where distance can often complicate the issue of providing support for new nurses. The Program also provides significant advantages to workplaces, like building the capacity of the nursing team.

“A lot of nurses who start in general practice in the NT are new graduates without a lot of experience,” said Marie. “There’s no real support or training program in place to assist with this transition from a university course to ‘real world nursing’. APNA has come a long way in providing that.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things for primary health care but adapting to remote learning and communication wasn’t one for Marie and her two trainee nurses. With Marie in Darwin and the trainee nurses in Mount Isa – 1600 kilometres apart – the relationship was always going to start off and remain virtual. That’s sometimes a challenge, particularly when the Internet is down.

In the Program, nurses draw on all their skills – organisational, communication, interpersonal, negotiation and conflict resolution. They build leadership and professional recognition as well as increase clinical expertise and knowledge of primary health care.

The Program offers access to relevant education, clinical and professional mentoring, a self-assessment framework and ongoing support tailored to the workplace.

But it’s more than just remote learning. Marie's role can range from coaching young nurses how to deal with unexpected administrative issues to building self-esteem and leadership skills.

“The clinical education is mainly from APNA and I can help with that, but I have been more of a coach as well,” she says. “We talk through things like taking the emotion out of something, being professional, which avenue to take, how to go to the right person in the right place to achieve a professional outcome. Because I’m outside looking in, there’s no politics.”

Marie has begun training to be a nurse practitioner, adding to a degree in psychology and a postgraduate degree in diabetes education. It’s a step towards caring for patients with chronic diseases, an area that is prevalent in the NT.

“I do think the government has to realise it’s practice nurses who are the forefront of providing chronic disease care and if they want change the outcomes of patients, they have to fund some sort of workforce to support it. One day they will figure out that it’s the practice nurses.”

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