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A true trailblazer

PROFILE: Person centred care and the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to the care of older people have been motivating philosophies throughout Catherine Brown’s 30-year nursing career.

From her involvement in setting up Australia’s first Teaching Nursing Home to implementing a pioneering psychogeriatric service for the Northern Territory Government, Catherine Brown has blazed a trial in aged care nursing.

Brown has pursued an ongoing interest in nursing leadership and in 2013 became endorsed as a Nurse Practitioner in psychogeriatrics and cognition, one of a small number of NPs in Australia practicing in this area.

Catherine Brown

Catherine Brown

Motivating her work over her 30-plus year career has been a passion for person centred care and multidisciplinary practice and a special interest in dementia and mental health.

Starting out her career, Brown took an early interest in holistic care.

Having just completed her nursing training at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, Brown took up a position with the spinal injuries unit at Royal North Shore Hospital. It was there, working alongside occupational therapists, physiotherapists and social workers, Brown internalised the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to care.

“I really took on board that you can’t piecemeal nursing,” she says.

Following a stint in the medical ward at Katoomba Hospital, Brown worked in a number of aged care facilities, working her way up to director of nursing, including five years as senior manager of The Benevolent Society’s residential services.

Wherever she worked, Brown saw herself as a change agent – working to embed person centred care in organisations and cultivating an appreciation of further education.

“I would move on every three-to-five years and take on changing the atmosphere and introducing person centred care,” she says.

Valuing continuous learning

Teaching and mentoring staff has been a big part of Brown’s career and in her leadership roles she has strongly encouraged staff to attend conferences and engage with research. Brown is also a Certificate IV trainer in the sector.

“My whole philosophy has been making sure the staff are educated and skilled enough to push the boundaries, think outside the square, and be really innovative,” she says.

To this end, Brown was involved in setting up Australia’s first Teaching Nursing Home with Australian Catholic University in the late 1990s, with the aim of encouraging a learning environment in aged care and staff participation in research.

She has also had a long involvement with professional associations, the Australian Association of Gerontology (AAG) and the Psychogeriatric Nurses’ Association Australia and has sought to build a bridge between research and practice, and between the clinical and social.

A new frontier

Pursuing a deep interest in dementia and psychogeriatrics, Brown moved to the Northern Territory in 2009 to set up a new psychogeriatric service for the NT Department of Health, a role that she says changed her. “I became more of a listener then I was because you would sit under a tree on a milk crate and listen to stories and understand true person centred care.”

Considering the vast geography and limited resources, mentoring and upskilling frontline staff was a key part of ensuring the sustainability of the service.

“You would go out [to communities] and give them the resources and the skills to do person centred care,” she says.

“Whether it meant delivering meals on wheels from the back of a truck or taking a packet of salt so you could teach someone how to wash out mucky eyes with just some salt and clean water – it was empowering staff to keep someone in their community.”

In their shoes

Brown is also passionate about delivering experiential workshops as a tool for embedding person centred care, and was recently engaged by Catholic Community Services NSW/ACT to conduct workshops with 580 of its frontline staff.

Experiential learning is a key part of understanding and practicing this philosophy because it asks staff to step inside the shoes of a person with dementia, and to move beyond surface labels, she says. The simulation workshops encourage staff to feel “the impact of the confused mind and the challenge of being set up to fail constantly.”

She believes this type of training should be mandatory for all staff – from cooks to gardeners and care workers, and should be considered “just as important as training in infection control and outbreak management.”

While cost is a perceived barrier, she says the investment is worth the change in attitudes, communication style and reflective practice.

“It’s been a great career. I have enjoyed getting staff though further education and changing environments and philosophies of organisations to embrace person centred care.”

This profile appears in the current issue of AAA magazine (March-April).

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One Response to A true trailblazer

  1. Bianca April 27, 2016 at 1:06 pm #

    Love it Catherine, we need more people like you. I have tried to connect with you on linked in but can’t seem to do so – so here’s hoping we connect in another way – I would love to know more about your success as I am just starting out in a similar role in the community in Western Australia. Hope to talk soon

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