A Mentors story

Near, Far, Wherever Nurses Are...

APNA’s Transition to Practice Program is supporting nurses new to primary health care, no matter the distance. 


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 mentor in APNA’s NiPHC Transition to Practice Program, tailored to provide new primary health care nurses with the benefit of her experience and support. Bottolfsen’s in a position now to answer the sort of 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 a 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 APNA program is a 12-month education, support and mentoring program for new primary health care nurses, funded by the Australian Government Department of Health. 

It’s particularly relevant in the Northern Territory, where Bottolfsen is based and where 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. 

Marie Bottolfsen, NT.

“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 kilometers 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 as well as increase clinical expertise and knowledge of primary health care.  

The support for new nurses includes access to education specific to primary health care nursing, 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 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.

The Australian Primary Health Care 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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