As part of our Sector Spotlight on NHS Orkney, we have spoken to Martha Gill, who is a Community Island Nurse. Originally from Australia, Martha undertook her BA Nursing in Glasgow before returning to Australia where she undertook a variety of roles within home care and Primary Care, which is community based, while also undertaking a post-graduate qualification in Nursing Practice. She then moved to Orkney to undertake her current role.
Can you describe a typical day as a Community Island Nurse?
This is a difficult question because every day is different.
When I am on duty I am the only nurse for the island so I could be doing what a Practice Nurse, a District Nurse or sometimes even what a Paramedic would normally be doing.
For example, I could be involved in a morning phlebotomy (blood taking) clinic, where I have to make sure to take all the samples before the morning plane leaves the island so they can get to the lab. Then I might have a series of appointments dressing wounds or giving vaccinations.
A lot of my time I spend with people involves helping them to manage long term conditions. The joy in my role is being able to help people over the long term, really getting to know their stories and investing time with them to help make their quality of life better.
In the middle of any appointment or at any other point during the day or night (I work on call as well) I might get an emergency call. This could be anything from a broken bone to a severe allergic reaction to a fall on the cliffs. I am lucky enough to work with wonderful GPs so there are usually at least two of us to respond to any emergency.
We need to provide all the pre-hospital emergency care on the island. We have to work out the best way to get sick or injured patients to the hospital; this usually involves the helicopter or boats.
This job, more than any other I have had, keeps me on my toes and it constantly gets me thinking about solutions to problems I couldn’t predict.
How did you end up in your current role?
I moved to Glasgow from Australia in 2007 and got into the BA Nursing Studies course through clearing. I started it with the idea that I would give it a go for a while and see how it went. It kept going ok (and still is) and I graduated in 2010 and moved back to Australia.
The registration process to work as a Nurse in Australia took a while, so while I was waiting I worked as a home-carer for people with disabilities. That was the best and worst job I’ve ever had. It was incredibly rewarding personally but also incredibly underpaid with very difficult working conditions.
When my registration finally came through I got a job in an aged care home and again worked harder than I ever had in my life. At the same time I was also interested in practice nursing so I started a Post-Graduate qualification in Practice Nursing and I had a placement in a GP Surgery. They were looking for a Nurse so I applied and got the job. I then also applied do some relief nursing for the local (rural) community palliative care nursing team.
So, for a while, I had three part-time nursing jobs working across the spectrum in Primary Care (community based care as opposed to hospital based which is called Secondary).
Since qualifying as a nurse I have always gravitated towards jobs in Primary Care, the more rural the better. When my husband and I decided to move to Scotland this job came up and I went for it. It really is a great opportunity to do a wide range of nursing in one role with new challenges every day.
What is the best thing about your job?
The chance to live and work in a fantastic community, the satisfaction of seeing the difference I can make in people’s lives and the challenge of never really knowing what each day will bring.
What is the worst thing about your job?
The difficulties that come about from working in such an isolated setting without nursing colleagues right next to me.
What skills do you need to be a Community Nurse?
What qualifications do you have?
Would you recommend a career as a Nurse?
Definitely. Nursing is a great profession to enter and there are so many different places it can take you.
To work as an island nurse I think you would definitely want to have a few years experience in Primary or Emergency Care before coming out given the nature of working so autonomously, but that is the great thing about nursing. There is always new places to go new roles to explore.
I am rapidly exiting (if not already out of) the young people category but coming here to work when I was 28 was definitely a fantastic thing for me to do . If you are a young person wondering what the right thing to do might be I would recommend you give nursing a go, I did and it’s still working out for me. I particularly would encourage young men to give it a go.
It is a fantastically challenging, rewarding and exciting career that can take you anywhere in the world or even keep you right at home wherever you want to be. Nursing needs young people. You can give a lot of yourself to nursing and it will give a lot to you.
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