Celebrating International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, in honour of the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale's birth.
On a regular day, you will usually find Erica Smith busily caring for patients and leading her team as Mater Private Hospital Townsville’s Renal Services Nurse Unit Manager. But catch her away from the daily grind and you might have to look to the skies to find her.
“After I finished my nursing training I learnt to fly in a Beechcraft Skipper,” she said.
“My family used to hold air shows on our property at Woodstock, and one time I had the opportunity to do aerobatics in an open cockpit Tiger Moth with Australia’s Aerobatic Champion at that time. It was such an amazing experience.
“I still help operate and maintain our private airpark, and have flown in a lot of different aircraft over the years.”
Although she loves the adrenaline of aerial acrobatics, nursing will always be her true calling.
“I’ve wanted to be a nurse since I was about grade five,” she said.
“I love looking after people and I always have. When my father was sick, I used to rub his back to help the pain. He called me ‘Wendy the Witch’ because he said I always made the pain go away.”Erica Smith - Nurse Unit Manager, Renal Services
“I love looking after people and I always have. When my father was sick, I used to rub his back to help the pain. He called me ‘Wendy the Witch’ because he said I always made the pain go away.”
Having completed her training at Townsville General Hospital in 1985, Erica has tried her hands at several pathways in nursing, including a stint in midwifery, working in doctor’s surgeries, as an occupational health nurse at Mount Isa and at the Townsville Day Surgery in its early years.
In 2004 she joined the team at Mater and worked casually for two years in most departments in the hospital, taking a short break she eventually found her way to the Mater Renal Unit where she’s been ever since.
“I just really love the ethos of Mater,” she said.
“The hospital has always supported me through difficult times – even as a casual RN. They’ve been so flexible and allowed me to work school hours shifts so I could provide extra support to my child through some personal challenges. It’s those little things that count.”
But above all, the thing that keeps her coming back day after day is the huge reward of changing patients’ lives forever.
“Probably one of my fondest memories is seeing my first ever patient who had just been told that he was going to receive a kidney transplant,” she said.
“You couldn’t wipe the smile from his face. The grin was from ear to ear!
“In the Renal Unit, our patients become like a second family to us. We share in their joys, as well as the sadness when they pass. I feel so privileged to be able to care for them.”