“I come from a family of nurses and I knew as soon as I started my studies, that I was in the right place.”
“While nursing is a selfless profession, I see it as a real privilege to be let into people’s lives in the deepest ways to be able to look after them and help guide them to find the best quality of life that they can have,” said Australia Day 2023 award recipient Dr Therese Burke.
Dr Burke has been honoured for her significant service to medicine, particularly multiple sclerosis (MS) research, and to nursing, by being made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 2023 Australia Day Honours List.
“The recognition comes for her invaluable contribution across the MS community and her commitment and dedication as a renowned and much-admired MS nurse,” said MS Australia CEO Rohan Greenland.
Dr Burke described receiving the Order of Australia Medal as an acknowledgement of the entire MS medical community and particularly of MS nurses.
“This award is very humbling and an absolute privilege. It is also an acknowledgement to my colleagues, MS nurses and those people living with MS, their families and carers who have shared their stories with me over the years. I am truly honoured,” she said.
Dr Burke, MS Australia’s Clinical Platform Coordinator and an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at the University of Notre Dame Australia, started her journey in nursing almost 40 years ago, commencing studies at Westmead Hospital in Sydney, having moved from Dubbo in rural New South Wales.
Her career has included specialty training in critical care, asthma, immunology and allergy treatment, followed by training and working in complex disease clinical trials.
With the establishment of the first MS clinic at Westmead Hospital, Dr Burke assisted on projects in ground-breaking genetic research where her love of research began.
“The scientists, immunologists and neurologists were all very passionate about patient care and all believed that good nursing care could make a difference in living with chronic illness.
“I think that’s what really grabbed me and pulled me in – to have a chance to make a positive difference in people’s lives,” she said.
With no formal training available in Australia at the time, Dr Burke undertook certified training in MS nursing overseas which later led to a Master’s degree exploring the lived experience in MS and a PhD study at the University of Notre Dame Australia.
The MS clinical and research centre grew from 20 patients to hundreds in the first few years and began clinical trials in both MS and Motor Neurone Disease.
In 2020, Dr Burke joined MS Australia to develop educational modules for clinical trial staff working in MS and to assist in expanding the research world for people living with MS.
“I’m just so happy that we can bring attention to a disease that needs further research investment and more nursing support. We’ve made so many advances, but we still don’t have a cure for MS. We don’t have all the answers, but we are working steadily towards that day.
“We need sustained, consistent research, supported by funding, particularly for the scientists and clinicians to find that cure, and to support more MS nurses to improve quality of life along the way, while we work towards the cure,” Dr Burke said.
LIST OF OTHER NURSES AND MIDWIVES HONOURED
MEDAL OF THE ORDER (OAM)
Mrs Diane Elizabeth Bilka: For service to nursing. Remote Area Nursing.
Mrs Mary Lorna Burgess: For service to the community through charitable organisations
Mrs Bronwyn Crosby: For service to community health.
Mrs Maureen (Mandy) Langdon: For service to nursing.
Ms Beverley Jean McCormack: For service to remote area nursing.
Mrs Yoko Mills: For service to nursing.
Mrs Narelle Judith O’Rourke: For service to the preservation of nursing history.
MEMBER OF THE ORDER (AM)
Ms Lucinda Jane Barry: For significant service to public health policy in executive roles, and to medicine.
Dr Therese Burke: For significant service to medicine, particularly to multiple sclerosis research, and to nursing.
Ms Jennifer Elizabeth Collins: For significant service to veterans and their families, and to nursing.
Professor Maralyn Foureur: For significant service to nursing in the field of midwifery.
Ms Susan Pearce: For significant service to public health administration and governance.