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25 January 2021
By SARAH MATTHEWS
Nhill’s Mandy Stephan wants to use her national Australia Day accolade to shine a light on the vital role maternal and child health nurses play in maintaining strong rural communities.
On Tuesday, Mrs Stephan will join the Governor-General’s 2021 honour list, awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia, OAM, in the General Division for her service to nursing, particularly to child and maternal health.
“I feel a bit humbled by the honour,” Mrs Stephan said.
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“There are many nurses like me in rural Victoria who do a great job and provide a great service for rural families as part of a maternal and child health service that has been running for more than 100 years.
“I see myself as one of many doing what we need to do.”
Mrs Stephan is West Wimmera Health Service’s sole maternal and child health nurse. She also runs a pregnancy care clinic and ‘well women’s clinic’ at Nhill hospital.
Mrs Stephan said strong antenatal and maternal and child health services were vital assets, particularly in rural, regional and remote areas.
“It’s called maternal and child health but actually, it’s about young families and providing support for a family life cycle,” she said.
“It’s one of the resources that has never really been recognised.
“It’s a rewarding job and a very dynamic one, especially in rural communities.
“At the start of a week you have a plan, but your days might be completely different to what you thought they were going to be.
“It’s important to be flexible and available. My phone is always on the kitchen windowsill – I try to be available to help parents as much as I can.”
Heart and soul
Mrs Stephan said her heart and soul belonged in the Wimmera-southern Mallee.
She was born and raised at Kaniva, one of five children.
Her father was a farmer and mother, an infant welfare nurse.
Mrs Stephan followed in her mother’s footsteps, studying nursing and midwifery in Melbourne in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
After completing her studies she moved to Nhill, which at the time, offered the closest maternity hospital to Kaniva.
She met her husband, Gus, a farmer, and the couple had three children, Lucy, Fred and Oscar.
Mrs Stephan said she knew being a mother and a farmer’s wife would make shift work near-impossible, so she returned to study and by the end of the 1980s had qualified as a maternal and child health nurse.
Maternal and child health nurses work in partnership with families to care for babies and young children until they start school.
The free service includes visits to a nurse at 10 key ages and stages in a child’s development.
“The community has been very accepting of me as the nurse,” Mrs Stephan said.
“I’ve found it very rewarding and it’s been an honour.”
Mrs Stephan said nurses were good observers of human behaviour, which stemmed from ‘a love of people’.
“We love to chat, which is helpful when it comes to getting to know our families and their concerns,” she said.
“As a maternal and child health nurse, I know there are all different types of parents and all different types of parenting.
“Just because something works for one family doesn’t mean it will work for another.
“It’s our role to support in a gentle way and it’s up to the family to accept or not accept our advice.
“We are there to empower parents, because when a parent feels confident, their child will feel empowered and confident as well.”
Rural maternity services have changed majorly throughout Mrs Stephan’s time at Nhill.
“We don’t deliver babies at Nhill hospital anymore, all mothers have to travel further afield, usually to Horsham, Bendigo, Ballarat, Hamilton or Melbourne,” she said.
“I’ve seen a decline in population because of the drought and all of those things, and the demographics have changed. We are more multicultural now.
“We have a lot of Karen people who use the service. They are beautiful mothers, so natural and patient, and appreciative of the service you provide.
“There’s also been a shift in caregiving, with fathers becoming more involved in caring for their children.
“We have also seen the introduction of childcare and early learning services at Nhill, including three and four-year-old kindergarten.
“Early years services are incredibly important in rural and remote areas and offer a mix of educational and health professionals.”
Mrs Stephan has been a member of Wimmera and Southern Mallee Maternal and Child Health Nurses since 1990 and is a former president and secretary.
The group comprises MCHNs from Wimmera-Mallee municipalities and enables networking, trouble shooting and ongoing learning opportunities.
Mrs Stephan also oversees West Wimmera Health Service’s pregnancy care clinic, which offers a range of services from antenatal classes to shared care with Horsham-based GP obstetricians.
“Instead of all the mothers having to travel all the time, they can have some appointments with nurses at Nhill,” she said.
“We do blood pressure, listen to the baby and if we need to, we ring a doctor.
“It’s helped to fill a gap because so many girls were travelling to Horsham, waiting 30 minutes to see a doctor, then having their appointment – which might only take 15 minutes – and driving home, often with a toddler in tow.
“Having a pregnancy clinic at Nhill is part of trying to keep services local. If we take away services, we take away community.
“If we have good health services available to everyone and good education services, the community will thrive.”
Mrs Stephan said she believed it was important to look after the community's ‘book ends’.
“In the Wimmera-southern Mallee there is a lot of focus on the elderly, because of the percentage of population, but we also need to look after our young families,” she said.
“If the bookends are strong and solid, our society will be a better one.”
The entire January 27, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!
The entire January 27, 2021 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!