Life as a nurse in the age of COVID-19

14 May 2020

Alumna Tracey Papa graduated from the University of Notre Dame Australia in 2008 with a Bachelor of Nursing. She was part of the first cohort to study on the Sydney Campus and would have never guessed then that she would end up working as part of a Public Health Unit during a global pandemic.

Today, Tracey is the Nurse Unit Manager of the South Eastern Sydney (SESLHD) district’s Public Health Unit. “I manage three different teams,” Tracey explains. “The Immunisation Team, School Program Team and the Infectious Diseases Team, which is tasked with responding to infectious diseases such as COVID-19. This involves contact tracing but also providing support and advice for COVID-19 positive patients.”

The workplace has changed considerably for Tracey since the outbreak of COVID-19, which brought an increased workload and surge in staff. She has taken the challenge in her stride, citing the support of the Director and Deputy Director of the Public Health Unit in helping to create the right environment for staff.

But how does one stay positive and motivated while on the frontline of a healthcare crisis? “I am generally a positive, light-hearted person so I tend to make jokes to keep the office spirit alive,” says Tracey. On a more serious note, she has found it’s also important to commend staff for small wins and maintain a focus on the ‘bigger picture’ – in the past couple of months that has meant contributing to flattening the curve and reducing pressure for hospital beds.

During times like these, Tracey believes it’s the little things that count. “It is important we make sure staff are having breaks, for example, and going home on time (where possible),” she says. “We partner new staff together so they can develop a relationship, support each other and feel like they are learning together.” Tracey also works to maintain communication and transparency with the staff, allocate team leaders so they are able to refer to someone for support and gives the opportunity to provide and receive feedback.

“I really enjoy working with my team here but I would have never guessed I would end up in the Public Health Unit,” says Tracey, as she recalls her time at Notre Dame. “We were the first group of students to graduate from the Sydney Campus and it wasn’t a very big group at that time so I have lasting friendships from my time at university. We helped each other get through.”

Since graduating, Tracey has gone on to complete a Masters of Business Administration and has taken up various roles as a Nurse Unit Manager, After Hours Manager and Clinical Nurse Educator for Respiratory, Aged Care and Neurosurgery/Plastics.

“To students studying a nursing degree now, I would say be open to opportunity, as you never know where it will take you. I was always up for a challenge and had the right people to support me. If you have that, you can be anything you want to be.”

Caption: Tracey Papa. Photographer: Christian Gilles, courtesy of The Daily Telegraph.


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