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A Victorian nurse practitioner who has worked tirelessly to support women with ovarian cancer and their families and a First Nations NSW midwife who developed the first Aboriginal-led maternity model of care in Australia took out the major awards at last night’s 2022 HESTA Australian Nursing and Midwifery Awards.

Now in their 16th year, the national awards recognise Australia’s nurses, midwives, nurse educators, researchers and personal care workers for their contributions to improving health outcomes.

Nurse practitioner Sue Hegarty was named the 2022 Nurse of the Year for her advocacy and support for women with ovarian cancer, including her leadership in developing Australia’s first ovarian cancer telehealth program.

Ms Hegarty, who boasts a 26-year career dedicated to cancer nursing, said she was humbled to be named 2022 Nurse of the Year, describing it as a ‘great honour’ to represent her colleagues.

“I work with a team of devoted ovarian cancer nurses, counsellors, psychologists and allied health professionals who have helped women and their families through the toughest times of their lives,” she said.

“I accept this award for all the nurses and team I work with at Ovarian Cancer Australia (OCA). To be a winner is recognition of the essential work we have done and will continue to do to ensure no woman with ovarian cancer walks alone.”

Sue Hegarty

Ms Hegarty has been instrumental in the development of programs offered through OCA, attracting millions of dollars in funding. This includes spearheading the development of Australia’s first ovarian cancer telehealth program, which provides women with access to dedicated ovarian cancer nurses.

She plans to use the $10,000 in prizemoney to enhance the OCA team’s communication skills.

“Effective communication is an essential skill for the team delivering OCA’s support programs as our nurses are having to have incredibly difficult conversations. It is well documented that the more confident health professionals feel in their communication skills, the less at risk they are of burnout,” she said.

Melanie Briggs, a descendant of Dharawal and Gumbaynggirr peoples, was crowned Midwife of the Year for her work to improve First Nations’ maternal and infant health.

The director and founder of Binjilaanii, the first Aboriginal-led maternity model of care in Australia, and also a senior midwife at Waminda South Coast Women’s Health and Welfare Aboriginal Corporation, Ms Briggs said she was honoured to be named Midwife of the Year.

Melanie Briggs

“Being recognised and being an Aboriginal midwife and caring for women on country is a privilege and I feel incredibly proud,” she said.

“My team should be here standing here with me. This award is in recognition of the amazing work our team and organisation do in community to ensure that our First Nations mums and bubs receive the best start to life.”

Ms Briggs is renowned for her strong advocacy, implementing the Waminda Birthing on Country Model. The model incorporates culture into maternity care to improve outcomes for First Nations women and babies. Her vision is to see Aboriginal women birthing on their homelands, practising traditional lore and continuing cultural connections to country for their baby and their families.

“Practicing culture and working with First Nations mothers and supporting women on that journey during pregnancy is so important for us; it is empowering for our women as it brings incredible outcomes – seeing that is the most rewarding part of my job”, she said.

She plans to use the prizemoney to conduct further research and embed cultural practices into the Birthing on Country model of care.

Meanwhile, Beaudesert Hospital Maternity took out the final award for Outstanding Organisation, recognised for its high-quality maternity services, demonstrating incredible commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of women and babies in rural Queensland.

The organisation has enhanced healthcare for local women and babies, including expanding its Midwifery Group Practice, which provides individualised continuity of care during pregnancy, labour and birth, and in the provision of postnatal care.

Jacquie Smith, Beaudesert Hospital’s Nursing & Midwifery Director and Facility Manager, labelled the win exciting for the maternity unit and a welcome opportunity for the team to celebrate their hard work and commitment to providing maternity care to the community.

“To be a winner is so exciting and provides positive recognition of the value and importance of local midwifery care for rural women and families,” Ms Smith said.

“I’m privileged to lead my team and it’s also fitting to acknowledge and appreciate the contributions of the wider hospital team who support our maternity service and without whom we would not be able to provide our service.”

HESTA CEO Debby Blakey congratulated this year’s winners and finalists, acknowledging the extraordinary role they have played in delivering improved health outcomes and care for Australians.

“This year’s winners and finalists have demonstrated the very best of their profession: compassion, empathy and dedication to helping improve the lives of others,” Ms Blakey said.

“No matter the hour, no matter the situation, our nurses and midwives are there to answer the call. They have made an immeasurable difference to the health and wellbeing of so many people and it’s so clear why they are the backbone of our healthcare system.”

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