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Scrubbing in for her future

Determined to continue the nursing career she loves here in Australia, American Susan Nguyen overcame every hurdle life placed in front of her.

The last thing Susan Nguyen expected to come from a night out with her girlfriends was to meet her fiancé and follow him home to Australia. But five years later, here she finds herself: still in love, raising her daughter and, after a few hurdles, growing her career in nursing.

“We kept in touch after my partner left and three months later, he said, ‘Hey, come out to Australia?’”

“It’s crazy how one moment can completely change your life!” Susan says.

And the one question Susan asked as she prepared to uproot her life in Kansas to move to Queensland, was whether she would be able to continue her career as a surgical nurse.

“In America, my background in nursing was as a surgical technician.”

“I discovered my degree didn’t translate in the Australian nursing industry so I had to find a course that would qualify me to work, and as an international student, and be financially doable.”

“Looking at our budget, starting a Registered Nurse (RN) course right away wasn’t an option for us. So, to get my foot in the door I enrolled for the TAFE Queensland Diploma of Nursing (HLT54115) to become an Enrolled Nurse (EN).”

Happily, Susan discovered, there are a lot of exciting career pathways for Enrolled Nurses in Australia, but after finishing her course in 2019, she hit an unexpected roadblock.

“As a new grad starting in any hospital, you have to have completed a graduate program.”

“I had six years of experience in a hospital setting, working in an operating theatre setting, but I didn't have any ward nursing experience. Unfortunately, I couldn't get right back into where I was back in the US.”

“But then I would also apply for grad programs, and I would get turned down because I had too much experience.”

Instead, Susan applied for a casual position on a ward.

“I got picked up by an orthopaedic ward three weeks later and found a permanent position in a private hospital setting.” Susan smiles.

Susan didn't just bide her time getting her ward experience before she could go back into the theatre, she worked hard and, as a result of her excellent care, was awarded the Bupa Patient Choice Excellence Award.

“After a year of ward nursing, I went down to day surgery to get my scrub scout skills back.”

A scrub scout, Susan explains, is one of the operating theatre professionals that assist surgeons through an operation, as well as assisting the patient throughout the whole perioperative recovery process.

“Say a surgeon is doing a carpal tunnel release, the scrub scout’s role is to get all the equipment needed for them to operate. And then you have a scout who stands in the non-sterile field to retrieve items that will be needed in the sterile field.”

“And that's where your scrub nurse is setting up the table within the sterile field and anticipating the surgeon’s needs.”

“It’s an interesting role within nursing. You’re working with a range of different people: the anaesthetic nurse and anaesthetist, the surgeon, surgical, the surgeon's assistant, the orderly and scrub nurse.”

“It's a very technical, very hands on type of nursing.”

Susan's advice for nurses looking to get into the theatre: "Every hospital has different requirements when applying for a perioperative program. There are transition programs within the hospital for ward nurses; however, you can also apply straight into a perioperative program as a graduate."

As well as scrub scouting, Susan was working over at the public hospital getting her trauma skills.

“It was a lot of back and forth!” she laughs. “But so worth it. I was able to do what I was doing in America, just through being an EN at TAFE.”

“The EN program tailors your studies to give you industry experience. Compared to my studies in America, it was really good to be able to practice and learn what to expect when you’re going into a clinical setting.”

“The lab where I studied at the Southport campus was amazing. It actually prepares you for what you need when you go into placement.”

“It’s a great course if you’re just beginning, but also it was a great opportunity to refresh my skills as someone with experience. You learn everything, from making the bed, showering the patient, drawing up antibiotics, to IV and catheter removal, it’s tailored to everything you need.”

“It also helped me to learn the differences between the US and Aussie systems. For me some of the hardest habits to crack were abbreviations of medical terms. The jargon, spelling, the language structure… Oh! And the metric system!” Susan laughs.

A few years later, Susan has taken her career even further: moving into her current role, as an Orthopaedic Territory Manager for Newclip Technics Australia.

“I'm now managing the orthopaedic company for the Gold Coast, Northern New South Wales and Southern Brisbane territory.” She smiles proudly.

“If a surgeon needs specific equipment from a company for an operation, I come out and assist the nurse and the surgeon through the operation. I teach the nurses how to set up the instruments, as well as guiding the surgeons through the operation using our instruments.”

Still determined as the day she started, in the next year Susan hopes to move into a business development manager role.

“I’d still get to work with surgeons, but I’d also have my own team, as well as go into hospitals and do education in service and provide workshops for medical students and registrars.”

Looking back, Susan doesn’t regret her move to Australia one bit.

“Overall, I think I’ve learned that if it feels right, then you should do it.”

“If it’s something you want to do, then do it, because this your life, no one else's life, and you just have to be brave and take that step.”