Steven Ingaunti was stuck in a job he didn’t love, accounting, and looking for a career change.
“I never enjoyed it and just kept doing it because I didn’t really know what else to do,” he reflects.
“The whole time I was doing it, I knew it wasn’t for me and that I needed to find something else to do.”
Steven canvassed the views of close friends and came to the conclusion his next chapter rested in either teaching or nursing.
“I wanted to do something where I feel like I’m a positive influence on other people around me and something that gives back.”
He eventually sided with nursing, enrolling in a Bachelor of Nursing at RMIT in Victoria.
With males being a minority in the profession, he concedes his shift into the profession raised eyebrows among some colleagues.
“You’d get those comments like ‘why are you becoming a nurse shouldn’t you be becoming a doctor?’ It was interesting that some people would just assume that because I’m a guy that I should be a doctor and not a nurse.
“But I mostly encountered positive things, people saying ‘we need more male nurses so good on you for doing it’ kind of thing. Even people at university, my lecturers, said ‘we’re just happy to see more men starting to decide that nursing is a proper career path’.”
After finishing the three-year nursing degree, Steven chose to undertake his graduate year at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, where he had completed one of his final clinical placements.
“It was a really busy ward, a hectic kind of place, but I really liked the model of preceptorship, what they did and are still doing now in my grad year,” Steven explains.
“They are very much hands-on but they also kind of just leave you be if you’re ok. They seem to have this knack of knowing when you need a hand. The educators seem to know when you’re struggling and need a bit of help.”
The 40-year-old commenced his graduate year in January and is currently on his first rotation in the hospital’s stroke and neurology ward.
He says the transition from university to fully-fledged nurse has been an eye-opener.
“Nothing prepares you,” he says.
“The first time you’re nursing, you’re like nobody’s watching me, no one’s making me co-sign something, I can actually sign off documentation and write RN at the end of it and that kind of still boggles my mind a little bit.
“You have some shifts where things are actually ok and you’re like I can do this, because the biggest issue [for me] has just been in my own head, being able to trust myself and believe that I can actually do the job. It is one thing to do it as a student, because you’ve always got someone right by your side to tell you if you’re doing something right or not, but it’s a little scary when you think ‘I’ve got someone’s life in my hands’. It’s just a bit daunting from that point of view.”
Steven credits the team nursing model within the ward with giving him the reassurance to find his feet and ask for help when he needs it.
He continues to work on his confidence and is also looking to improve his level of medication knowledge.
“I always just feel like I’m letting the team down or I’m taking too long to do something. One of the biggest things I’ve learnt is any time I’ve had a chat with anyone on the ward that’s either worked with me or had feedback about me, everyone’s just been so positive and said we wouldn’t even know you’re a grad.
“It’s a matter of just trying to get some confidence to know that I can actually do it and that people believe in me and that even if something isn’t quite going to plan, that there’s still someone there that you can kind of go to.”
Steven says the best piece of advice he’s received was on his first day working at the hospital.
“One of the coordinators of the grad program, she must have seen that we all looked completely terrified because she just looked at us and said ‘no one is expecting you to be an expert on the wards that you’re going to on your rotation, we just want you to be safe’.
“That [advice] has played in my mind so many times. Just be safe. If you don’t fully know what you’re doing or what the potential impact of something is, just go and ask. Get something triple-checked before you do it because it’s all just about being safe.”
Like other graduate nurses beginning their careers this year, Steven entered the profession amid the unfolding global COVID-19 pandemic, describing it as the new normal.
He says RMH’s stroke and neurology ward was designated as a holding ward because it has a lot of single rooms, with some beds closed to keep them available for potential COVID-19 cases.
“There were a few shifts that were a bit concerning. I was basically told I had to wear the same face mask for the entire shift. But we had no choice, because obviously we just didn’t have enough supply.”
Steven says the hardest part of COVID-19 has been self-isolating from family.
“The negative is I haven’t seen my mum in probably two or three months. I just don’t feel like it’s worth the risk. I just don’t want to take the risk, that if I unknowingly come into contact with anything, that I then go and pass it onto her.”
Steven says staff at RMH have rallied behind each other in the face of COVID-19.
“If anything, I’ve found work to be a really comforting experience from the point of view that everybody just gets behind each other.”
Looking ahead, Steven says he is hoping to soak up as much knowledge as he can throughout the rest of his graduate year, which will include a rotation on the general surgery ward.
From next year onwards, he plans to take further steps to pursue other settings, such as intensive care.
His advice to prospective nursing students is to be prepared for a tough slog and remain resilient.
“It’s a rough three years, you’re not paid for your placements so you need to have a little bit of financial security behind you or at least some situation where you don’t have many expenses. It was really tough to make that decision to study full-time and basically strip everything back and say for three years I’m not going to travel, I’m not going to go out as much. You just have to know you want to do it because it’s not easy.
“There were so many times I wanted to quit and give up but something just kind of tells you to keep pushing and you need that because it’s pretty easy to stop and walk away from it. But if you really want to do it you’ll just persevere and get through it.”
His advice to new graduates is don’t feel afraid to ask for help.
“Don’t ever feel that you can’t ask questions because if you’ve got a good team around you they should be more than happy to actually help you or at least point you in the right direction where you can get the answers.
“Also, just try to build up some confidence to know that you belong. You’ve worked your way to that position, so you’ve got every right to ask a question if you’re not sure about something and just find the people that you gel with because it becomes a family.”
Steven says people commonly call him courageous for making the decision to embark on a career change but the term doesn’t sit well with him.
“I’m like ‘well no it wasn’t’ because for me, I had no choice. I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing. I hated it and was just miserable, doing a career that you have absolutely no passion for.
“Whether I only do this for 10 years or whatever, it’s still completely worth it. You still take something from every experience and as rough as it was for those three years hardly working and not being paid for placement, I wouldn’t take back any of it.”
While he still has a long way to go in nursing, Steven has already fallen in love with the profession and says he is glad he took the plunge.
“I’m thrilled to do the work that I do. It’s also all the different opportunities that will present themselves along the way. Being a lot older, I don’t have as much time to go down some of the paths that maybe some others can but I just love the prospect that I could possibly travel, or get into research or back into education, I can go into so many different pathways.
“For me [nursing] it’s just a privilege to be there for somebody who is going through for the most part a pretty awful experience, as not too many people actually want to be in hospital. To be there and be able to do what I think is just basic human decency sort of stuff, just making sure they’re comfortable, making sure they’ve got what they need, helping them wash if that’s what they need.
“Some people just look at that and say ‘oh it’s just boring stuff’. But if it helps someone feel that they matter and that they’ve got some dignity, for me that’s just the ultimate.”