Photo story: Walk a mile in the shoes of a neurology nurse on Ward 54

Aisling stands in front of the staff car park. The sky is dark.

While the sun might not have risen yet, Neurology Nurse Aisling Doherty is ready to walk through the doors of Monash Medical Centre to start her 7am shift on Ward 54. As our resident Neurosciences ward, and one of only two stroke referral centres in Victoria, Aisling says no two days on the job are ever the same. “It really suits someone who can throw themselves into lots of different things,” she says. After a 5:30am wake up call with a few hits of the snooze button, Aisling never forgets to grab her morning coffee on the drive over. “It’s a must for me to really wake up,” she says.

A blurry figure pushes a cart through a hallway with a sign above it saying "Neurosurgery, Neurosciences".
Aisling sits in the briefing room at a chair amongst her peers.
Aisling does the morning handover at a computer station with another nurse.

When she arrives on the ward, Aisling likes to take a stroll around and say hello to the departing night staff. The day kicks off with the team’s morning huddle, where the Nurse Manager and Nurse in Charge brief the morning crew on all the information they need to get through the day. Once she’s set and knows where she’s been allocated, Aisling heads over to do a direct handover with the night shift nurse she’s taking over from. “I like to say hello to all my patients if they’re awake first up, and then I’ll log onto my computer and write up a bit of a plan of my day,” she says. Today, Aisling is rostered within the High Acuity Nursing Unit inside the ward, which means she has two patients to care for with higher support needs.

Aisling hooks up a nasogastric feeding tube to a patient.
Aisling looks for medication in the storage room.
Aisling draws some insulin into a syringe.

At 9am, Aisling helps her patients with their breakfast. One of her allocated patients is a stroke survivor who has developed significant injuries as a result. He uses a nasogastric tube, which is a feeding tube running through his nose into his stomach, to eat and take medicine. Aisling hooks up his breakfast to his tube and then checks his medicine chart to see what needs to be administered and when.

A team of practitioners surround a patient in a wheelchair.

For the neuroscience team on ward 54, a multidisciplinary approach is often needed when caring for patients with high dependency needs. While undertaking a nasogastric feed, a change in breathing pattern was noticed, and the ever-vigilant team responded quickly by clearing the patient’s airway and restoring normal breathing. This is incredibly important for patients who are unable to do this for themselves. “I really love our team, and we’re always there for each other. A lot of people stay working on this ward because of our amazing team,” Aisling says. The ward commonly sees patients with stroke, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, brain bleeds, brain infections and spinal injuries. “If it’s got to do with your brain, we’ve seen it,” she says. 

Aisling wheels a patient around in a wheelchair.
A neurosciences poster of the brain on the wall.

Whenever Aisling is on the job, she makes sure her patients get out of bed and go for a walk around the ward – even if she must push them around on a wheelchair herself. “It’s good to sit them out and get them moving around,” she says. “It’s just a bit of change in scenery, because looking at the same thing all day would be very boring.” Thankfully for Aisling, boredom is never an issue at work since she found her passion for neuroscience. I did my grad rotation at Monash Medical Centre, first in a dialysis ward, and then on ward 54,” she says. “When I graduated in 2018, I came right back to ward 54 and have stayed ever since.” 

Ivana hooks up electrodes to Mel's scalp.
Ivana hooks up even more electrodes to Mel's scalp.

Meanwhile, our Senior Neurophysiology Scientist Ivana Peric is running an electroencephalogram (EEG) for patient Mel in our dedicated ‘Big Brother Room’, which is decked out with two cameras and a special bed just for EEG procedures. An EEG measures electrical activity in the brain using small electrodes attached to the scalp, and Mel is in the middle of a four-day stay to capture data on the gelastic seizures she has. “They’re quite rare – in my 15 years working in this field I’ve only ever seen a couple of cases of it,” Ivana says. Gelastic seizures cause fits of uncontrollable giggling. “Mel’s only last a couple of seconds, and she is usually able to press the button for us to let us know she is about to have one as she gets an unusual feeling or warning beforehand,” Ivana says. As a Neurophysiology Scientist, it’s Ivana’s job to obtain a recording of the patient’s electrical brain activity, seen as brain waves on the screen, and interpret whether there is any abnormal brain activity occurring in a preliminary report. “The main thing I do is EEG testing, and I primarily see patients that are experiencing seizures or related disorders, or patients in the ICU where they are wanting to rule out seizures as an underlying cause for conditions.” 

Aisling points at some food through the glass at a cafe on site.
Aisling has a laugh with some colleagues in the break room.

After a big morning, it’s time for Aisling to take a breather and refuel. When she doesn’t bring leftovers, she likes to head over to one of our on-site cafes to grab a bite to eat and “lots and lots of coffee”. “I will usually go to Nesso, and my favourite things to get there are the veggie soup or their falafel wrap,” she says. Having a laugh with her colleagues in the break room is always a part of the day Aisling looks forward to. “I really love our team and we’re all very close, they’re a big part of the reason why I have stayed working on this ward,” she says. “Sometimes, you see some pretty upsetting stuff that you can’t necessarily take home and explain to your loved ones, so it’s nice to be able to talk through some of that with the people you work with because you know they’re going through it too.” 

The Nurse Manager stands in the break room, briefing the nurses.
Aisling does afternoon handover at a computer station with another nurse.

At about 1pm, the afternoon team arrive and receive their very own huddle just like Aisling did this morning. But this time during the handover that follows, she’s the one doing the briefing. Aisling and her colleague can’t help but have a laugh about the mischief the team got up to on their latest social club outing. “We do all sorts of things together, like go out for a drink after work, and soon we’re going ice skating where we can bring our partners or family,” she says. “The social club even recently organised a big bake sale where we raised over $400 for stroke research.” However, the day isn’t quite over for Aisling who still has two more hours on the clock. The morning and afternoon staff work for two hours concurrently to ensure a smooth transition of care and opportunities for learning, development, meetings and project work.    

Aisling speaks to a patients family at his bedside.
A patient's daughter visits him and sits by his bed.

Not too long after, the daughter of one of the patient’s Aisling is looking after stops by to spend some time with her father. “Part of our job is liaising with family, and we just try to keep them well informed about what’s been happening and what we’ve been doing,” she says. “It’s really about supporting family members just as much as it is supporting the patients.” Aisling updates the patient’s daughter about her father’s progress in speech therapy sessions. “We frequently work with allied health professionals like speech therapists and physiotherapists who are key to the rehabilitation of our patients,” she says. For Aisling, compassion and understanding is important to her interactions with family as many patients on the neurosciences ward are receiving palliative care. “It’s part of my job to help guide them through that process.” 

A student nurse points to a scan on a screen while looking at Aisling.
The silhoutte of Aisling and another nurse next to a computer station.

With a few student nurses currently on the ward, Aisling makes sure she takes the time to help them learn the ropes. “You’re there to help field all their questions, help them with checks and just get the lay of the land,” she says. When new nurses start on ward 54, they shadow the experienced nurses for a day, and then switch places the next day. “It’s awesome to know there are people out there that want to do nursing, particularly after COVID-19, and you just want to do everything you can to help them become a good nurse.”

Aisling stands with her arms crossed in the middle of a hallway, with blurry moving figures around her.
Aisling stands on a grassy oval in the sunshine.

After finally clocking off, Aisling’s favourite way to decompress after a big day is to take a leisurely stroll. “I can let go of anything that happened at work, leave it behind and really enjoy the rest of the day,” she says. “It’s an important part of my everyday routine.” For Aisling, the moments she truly cherishes at work are when long-term patients are finally able to be discharged. “The best thing about being a nurse is seeing someone who has come in really acutely unwell, who stays with you for maybe six months where you really become a part of their family, and then get to see them go home,” she says. “In the last four years on ward 54, I have grown so much as a person and as a nurse, and I’ve been able to watch those grow around me too.” 

Join our incredible Ward 54 team

If you’d like to work alongside incredible nurses like Aisling, our Ward 54 team at Monash Medical Centre is now hiring. We’re proud to offer team-based nursing, flexible rostering, education opportunities, permanent night duty and career progression pathways to many of the other specialities we provide at Victoria’s largest healthcare service. 

To learn more, view the current job advertisement or visit the Monash Health careers website.