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Meet Plunket Nurse Karen - Making a Difference Series

Plunket nurses see 9 out of 10 of all New Zealand kids – visiting families in their homes, working with parents in clinics and helping out in local communities. From their very first visit they become a part of a family’s life. They provide support, they provide reassurance and they make the difference of a life times for NZ kids.

Our Plunket nurses are ordinary women who do extraordinary things every day for families across New Zealand. In this series of nurse profiles you will meet a handful of the amazing nurses who dedicate their time to ensuring our kiwi kids and families are supported.

Ngaruawahia based Plunket Nurse Karen Thurston has been with Plunket since she graduated in 2008. We asked her why she wanted to work for Plunket, what a day in her life looks like and about the difference she thinks Plunket makes in kiwi kids’ first 1000 days.

What inspired you to become a Plunket nurse?

When I started my training I would have never thought about going into Plunket nursing – I always knew I wanted to work in the community, I just didn’t know where. When I was studying it was a time where you were expected you would work in a hospital first and then move into a community job. This changed when I had my daughter in my second year of training and took a year off. I had an amazing Plunket nurse and she opened my eyes to community nursing and to becoming a Plunket nurse. Since then I decided Plunket was for me and I haven’t changed since.

What does a day in your life look like?

No two days are the same and I really like this. I have one set day at the clinic but on the other days I try to be flexible. I mix it up with home visits and working with people at clinics. 

The area that I work in also means that I need to be quite flexible as I see a lot of well-resourced families but also a lot of families with less access to resources (including things like extended family, transport or childcare). This means planning care according to every family’s needs in order to provide the best support I possibly can.

What do you like about working for Plunket?

I absolutely love working with the families and just seeing parents increase in confidence. I think being able to support them through the process is fantastic. It is really nice being able to watch both the parents and children grow and develop. I also just love connecting with people and helping them connect with each other.

I have some amazing colleagues as well. Even though we work fairly autonomously and by ourselves we meet up often. I love the fact Plunket is nurse-led organisation that really does have the needs of families at its heart.

I also really value the role of Plunket nursing. I feel like we are in a really great position to make an impact in the global nursing community as well as the NZ community. My passion is prescribing. There are lots of nurse prescribing roles developing and I think Plunket can be a leader in this both in NZ and international. I am really lucky to be heading overseas soon to review international nurse prescribing roles – this opportunity was awarded to me through the Margaret May Blackwell Travel Fellowship.

What is the best part about working in your community?

Definitely the community connectivity. There’s a real sense of identity and pride within every community. I think for people that look inwards they probably have an idea of what Ngaruawahia is. There are lots of awesome people doing amazing stuff in the community. Lots of amazing families, a lot of respect. It is a really special area that I work in.

How do you think Plunket makes a difference in the first 1000 days of a child’s life?

I can give you so many examples.  I think through being able to support families we are able to give them the confidence and reassurance that they are doing a really good job. Just being able to support them through the journey, and it is a big journey, and give them that confidence is amazing. It is also great being able to link them up to the resources they need depending on what is happening in their lives. Parenting is a learning journey and often parents don’t know what they don’t know; it’s a privilege to be there alongside them.

The biggest thing for me is that I love to build families up and tell them they are doing a great job. I don’t think we do this enough. We need to tell people that they are doing well because sometimes no one else is doing it. We are all so hard on ourselves.

I think that an important part of what we do it letting families know that we are here, whether it is me, the clinic or PlunketLine. Just letting them know there is someone out there at the end of the line can make all the difference.

What do you do when you are not being a Plunket nurse?

I am always a Plunket nurse – I don’t think this ever shuts off.

I have 2 young children and we have a bit of a lifestyle block, tending to animals. I am also on the PTA at their school, and like to be involved in school activities. I really value being a part of the community as well. It is so important to get involved.

I also just finished my Master’s degree so study has been a big part of my life.

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