This International Nurses Day we are shining the spotlight on Clinical Nurse Consultant McGrath Breast Care Nurse Sharon Shelford, who has been working at Gympie Hospital for 41 years. Sharon said becoming a nurse and working in her local community is her true calling, but it very nearly didn’t happen.
The Gympie local graduated from James Nash State High School in 1981, and had her sights set on teachers’ college, until a paperwork issue, a little divine intervention, sent her in a different direction.
“The school used to get a report about who had applied for what, and they came to me and said didn’t you apply for teacher’s college? Well, it didn’t go through. There was a $40 late fee to apply after the cut off, and I was too scared to ask my mother for the money. My best friend at the time was going to do nursing and had been accepted to do the training at Gympie Hospital and I thought, well, I’ll give it a go,” Sharon said.
“I think someone knew better than me that I would have been a better nurse than a preschool teacher, and it was just meant to be I think.”
17-year-old Sharon moved into the nurses’ quarters at Gympie Hospital and lived there for three years while she completed her training. She had her heart set on heading to the ‘big smoke’ of Brisbane and working in Paediatric Oncology, but again, life had other plans.
“One night after a nurse’s ball when I was in my second year of training, I met my husband at the local pub. We had gone to high school together, he didn’t remember me, but I certainly remembered him. We crossed paths, we got talking, we got married and we are still married all these years later.”
“He was a Brisbane boy, and he didn’t want to go back to Brisbane, so we ended up settling down in Gympie.”
Sharon started working in the wards at Gympie Hospital, before moving into Paediatrics and later oncology. Twelve years ago, she was appointed to the role of Clinical Nurse Consultant Breast Care Nurse, a position funded by the McGrath Foundation.
“It’s the best job I’ve ever had. I set this service up, and I’m really proud of where it is now. I’m a care coordinator, there’s a lot of social work aspects to the role, as well as education and information. If you’ve got a question, you give me a call and we will work it out.”
Chances are, if you live in the Gympie region and you’ve been given a breast cancer diagnosis, you know Sharon.
“Sometimes the first referral a GP will write for someone recently diagnosed with breast cancer will be to me, the second will be to the surgeon. Because it’s like, ‘you need to contact Sharon, she’ll get you sorted’,”
The once shy young nurse says she now has no problem advocating for patients.
“I always sit with my patients if they have a doctor’s appointment, so that when it’s finished, I will help decipher the medical jargon, because medical professionals talk in hieroglyphics. We believe in holistic care, and patients should be heavily involved in their care and make decisions that are right for them.”
“Gympie used to be, and it still is in parts, a large farming community. Some women will make treatment decisions based on that. For instance, some ladies might choose a particular surgery over another because one means they must go to the coast every day for three weeks and they can’t do that because they need to be home to milk cows twice a day. Some city people just wouldn’t get the gist of that.”
Her career has seen her dedicate more than forty years of service to Gympie health care and she stands behind the level of care the hospital delivers.
“We’re locals, so we advocate for locals, because this is our community. We’re invested in this place because this is our home. This is our family hospital; we’re invested in making this the best place we can make it because our families are coming here.”
On Fridy May 12, and every day, we thank Sharon and all our nurses and midwives at Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service for their dedication and hard work.