An insider insight into Forensicare’s Graduate Nursing ProgramZoe Simmons
An email changed everything for Graduate Mental Health Nurse Matilda Higgins.
It was the end of 2017 when she came across a three-week placement opportunity to work with Forensicare as a student forensic mental health nurse.
“I was studying a Bachelor of Nursing and a Bachelor of Midwifery, and had never even thought about forensic mental health before,” she said.
“But it sounded really interesting, so I put my hand up and decided to give it a go—and I’m so glad I did.”
With a placement on Atherton Unit at Thomas Embling Hospital, Matilda knew from the very first second that this was the career she’d always dreamed of.
“We had a really comprehensive orientation, and everyone was introduced to us, and we were introduced back. We felt really included, and felt like we were part of the team—that really set the tone for whole placement,” she said.
Most of the time, Matilda shadowed an experienced mental health nurse, and was given the opportunity to engage with clients, be on the floor, and learn how to develop a therapeutic relationship.
“Staff were also really proactive in exposing us to as much practical work as they could, which I found really helped me in my final year at university.”
In those three weeks, Matilda fell in love with forensic mental health, and being able to work with—and support—vulnerable people. And from then on, it was her dream to continue working with Forensicare after graduation.
“I was set on coming back; I loved the culture, and I loved being able to work with long-term, complex patients.”
Joining Forensicare’s Graduate Nurse Program
Matilda leapt at the chance to join Forensicare’s Graduate Nurse Program this year. Beginning her role as a Graduate Mental Health Nurse in January with a three-week orientation, Matilda says the support she’s received from the organisation has been astounding—and it’s something that’s never faded throughout her time with Forensicare.
As part of the 12-monthprogram, Matilda will complete two six-month rotations across Thomas Embling Hospital Units—one acute unit, and one rehabilitation unit.
“This rotation helps us to see the difference between the units, and learn to use different skills with different patient groups.”
Currently working on Apsley, Thomas Embling Hospital’s secure psychiatric unit, Matilda says she enjoys the challenges and the excitement of working long-term with patients who have complex mental health needs.
The program also includes studying a part-time Graduate Diploma of Mental Health Nursing at RMIT.
“It’s a secondary source of learning for us so we can apply what we learn clinically, and make sure our ability to work in this environment is the best it can be, in terms of its theory, and applying it practically.”
Working as a Graduate Mental Health Nurse
On a daily basis, Matilda’s role involves engaging with her patients, developing a therapeutic relationship with them, providing risk assessments and helping them to develop personalised coping strategies.
“I feel like it’s kind of being someone’s right hand man; their support system. It’s being there to listen to them, talk to them, and make them feel assured, and that they’re safe,” she said.
“It’s very personal. You really get to know the patient, and work together with them. And with that deeper therapeutic relationship, they often feel like they can confide in you: you’re not just some random; you’re here to help them, and be a part of their mental health recovery journey.
Matilda also helps her patients plan their day with structure.
“It’s even really simple things, like helping them to get out of bed, attending to their physical needs like taking a shower or eating, and encouraging them to get up and seize the day.”
And if Matilda needs help, her team is always there to back her up.
“It’s awesome to see how a team can band together, and make it to the finish line, and make sure things are done properly and thoroughly. I think that’s a pretty cool culture to be a part of.”
“I’ve always felt reassured by staff that they have my back, and I have their back too.”
The most rewarding part of working in forensic mental health
Helping people is what Matilda’s work is all about—and every day, she can see her work makes a genuine difference to people’s lives.
“I had an experience with one patient who became quite agitated and distressed, and they didn’t know what to do about those feelings, or how to cope,” she recalled.
“Working with that patient, we were able to identify some coping mechanisms that worked for him. Now, that patient has moved on to another unit, and I’ve seen him and heard him utilising those coping strategies—like deep breathing and listening to music. Even simple techniques like that were able to bring him back, and help him to self-soothe.”
“He was then empowered to know: yes, that strategy works for me. So, it was really a learnt mechanism for him, rather than relying on what other people told him. He’d empowered himself to know what he had to do to feel better.”
“I think that’s a massive foundation of the organisation: preparing and supporting someone to live a meaningful life.”
Advice for future Graduate Nurses
Before discovering Forensicare, Matilda didn’t know where she wanted her career to go.
“Even though I loved nursing, I didn’t know where I wanted to work, or what I wanted to be doing—and I think that’s something a lot of graduate nurses feel.”
“My advice is to take every opportunity,” she said.
“I’m so glad I took the opportunity Forensicare offered, because it’s given me a completely different outlook on my career, and what I want to do. It’s a supportive environment, where there are so many opportunities for growth, and I feel very lucky to be working here.”