Hear from nurses who have taken part in TPP

Nurses and nurse mentors who have taken part in the Transition to Practice Program share their experiences. If you would like to do the same, please email the program team.

Transitioning Nurses


Felicity's story

Tahnia's story

Tahnia Ah-Kit, QLD.

"I love primary health care... I love connecting with my community, going out into the community, obviously advocating for health promotion and giving them health education. I find that so important to continue to Close The Gap…"

Tahnia Ah Kit grew up around healthcare. Her grandmother was a registered nurse, her dad's mum was a full-time carer for her granddad who was a paraplegic, and her Mum was a health care worker. So, it wasn't surprising when she chose nursing as a career. Tahnia, who identifies with Waanyi, Kalkadoon, Ngadjon and Kuku Djungan tribes, was raised in Mount Isa, a small town in Rural Queensland. For Tahnia, connecting with community in rural and remote health settings is what it's all about.

"I loved watching them help and care for the people in a way that I would like to be cared for. I saw what a health worker could do in their job and how it changed the families' lives when they came into contact with them."

In her first few months as a primary health nurse, Tahnia was one of the lucky ones. Like most new nurses, she felt overwhelmed by the complexities of care in primary health but had support from a local graduate nurse support officer, Sarah. But when Sarah left to fill a more senior management role, it left a huge gap.

At that time, Tahnia had just started working in child health within the largest single Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service provider land area in Queensland and was feeling out of her depth; "I felt like I was definitely working out of my depth and needed to increase my knowledge in Child Health." She felt she lacked the in-depth knowledge needed to fully care for her patients. As many nurses can relate to when first starting out, many within her workplace assumed that because Tahnia was a nurse, she already knew everything and should be able to get on with the job. To top it off, she was experiencing conflict and challenging work dynamics which she wasn't sure how to deal with. She felt alone, isolated and stressed.

"I disengaged from wanting to be at work… You just don't want to be in that place and in that specific environment… Nobody likes feeling like that."

When Tahnia found out about APNA's NiPHC Transition to Practice Program (TPP), she applied immediately. The TPP program supports nurses new to primary health care through education, support and mentoring, and is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health. The program offers new nurses to primary health education opportunities and access to ongoing support from a mentor, who is an experienced nurse in Primary Health.

Tahnia was matched with a mentor outside her local area called Marie. With over 35 years of experience as a Registered Nurse and 15 years of experience in Primary Health, Marie was perfectly positioned to answer the things new nurses need to know. Based in Northern Territory she understood how isolating it can be working in primary care and rural/remote environments.

"Marie came in the most handiest form I could have ever had." As well as helping her fill knowledge gaps, Marie provided practical advice in dealing with her workplace dynamics. Marie gave Tahnia tactics and a language to voice her concerns in a clinical manner that couldn't be argued with. She helped her in gain back confidence in her ability and encouraged her to trust her instincts. Mostly, she showed her that there was no such thing as silly questions and that there were supportive nurses out there wanting to help.

"Marie gave me the education to assert myself… to clinically prove my concerns and worries, to show the rationales behind what I wanted to do… Sometimes you need that fresh eyes to look into a situation and Marie always was that person for me."

The education modules helped increase Tahnia's knowledge in areas that were more specific to her role. They introduced her to family health care and the child health system, giving her technical know-how and confidence to do her job.

When asked what advice she would give to new nurses in Primary Health, Tahnia comments:

"If you are a new nurse to primary health you should definitely apply for the APNA's TPP program because you just get so much support. You have unlimited education that is provided to you, whether it be from the APNA website itself, or from the webinars, or the classes that they hold. The support and flexibility I've gotten from APNA has been absolutely amazing. Whilst you're at work look at everything as abnormal and always question 'why?' – there is no such thing as a dumb question."

These days, Tahnia is much more relaxed about her role. She sees value in her job and loves connecting with her community, advocating for health promotion, and educating patients to better manage their health.

For more information and to apply to be a Mentor or Transitioning Nurse in APNA's Transition to Practice Program, visit our Transition to Practice Program page.

Transition to Practice is part of the Nursing in Primary Health Care Program, supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care.

Marie's story

Marie Bottolfsen, NT.

When Marie Bottolfsen started working as a primary health care nurse, there was no one to ask for support or advice. She used a textbook brought from the United Kingdom.

That's partly why she's taken up a role as a mentor in APNA's NiPHC Transition to Practice Program, which is tailored to provide new primary health care nurses with the benefit of her experience and support. Bottolfsen is now in a position to answer the questions she had when she started primary health care nursing 15 years ago.

"A nurse going into the hospital will get systematic training and support, whereas for a graduate going into general practice, there's nothing," says Bottolfsen, who has worked as a registered nurse for the past 35 years in the UK, U.S., and Australia. "There is no structured training in general practice—it can be quite random where one graduate gets support and the other doesn't."

Nurses new to primary health care can feel isolated, unsupported, and overwhelmed, whether they are just starting out in nursing or have changed careers after years in the hospital setting. The TPP program, funded by the Australian Government Department of Health, supports nurses new to primary health care through education, support, and mentoring.

It's particularly relevant in the Northern Territory, where Bottolfsen is based. Distance can often complicate the issue of providing support for nurses new to primary health care. The program also provides significant advantages to workplaces, like reducing the burden of supporting nurses unfamiliar with the setting and building the capacity of the nursing team.

"A lot of nurses who start in general practice in the NT are new graduates without a lot of experience," says Bottolfsen. "There's no real support or training program in place to assist with this transition from a university course to ‘real world nursing’. APNA has come a long way in providing that."

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many things for primary health care, but adapting to remote learning and communication wasn't one for Bottolfsen and her two trainee nurses. With Bottolfsen in Darwin and the trainee nurses in Mt. Isa—1600 kilometres apart—the relationship was always going to start off and stay virtual. That's sometimes a challenge, particularly when the Internet is down.

In the program, nurses draw on all their skills—organisational, communication, interpersonal, negotiation, and conflict resolution. They build leadership and professional recognition and increase clinical expertise and knowledge of primary health care.

The support for new nurses includes access to primary health care nursing education, clinical and professional mentoring, a self-assessment framework and ongoing support tailored to the workplace.

But the TPP program is more than just remote learning, says Bottolfsen. Her role can range from coaching young nurses on how to deal with unexpected administrative issues to building self-esteem and leadership skills.

"The clinical education is mainly from APNA and I can help with that, but I have been more of a coach as well," she says. "We talk through things like taking the emotion out of something, being professional, which avenue to take, how to go to the right person in the right place to achieve a professional outcome. Because I'm outside looking in, there's no politics."

Bottolfsen has begun training to be a nurse practitioner, adding to a degree in psychology and a postgraduate degree in diabetes education. Achieving that will be a concrete step towards caring for patients with chronic diseases, an area that is prevalent in the NT.

"I do think the government has to realise it's practice nurses who are the forefront of providing chronic disease care and if they want change the outcomes of patients, they have to fund some sort of workforce to support it. One day they will figure out that it's the practice nurses."

For more information and to apply to be a Mentor or Transitioning Nurse in APNA's Transition to Practice Program, visit our Transition to Practice Program page.

Emma's Story

Transition to Practice is part of the Nursing in Primary Health Care Program, supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care.

The Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.

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