In honour of International Nurses Day, Rethink Addiction would like to thank the great work AOD nurses do all over Australia. We talked to some nurses from one of our partners, Drug and Alcohol Nurses Australasia (DANA), about how they got involved in the AOD sector, what they are doing now, and what they want to see for AOD nursing in the future.
Falling into AOD nursing
According to DANA Vice President Jen Harland, AOD nursing is something that a lot of nurses fall into.
“It is a specialty not many people know about when they are studying nursing. I only really found out about it when I was doing my mental health training at Rozelle Hospital and I am so glad I did because I absolutely love it,” Jen said.
“Other areas of nursing care can be a bit fragmented. But with AOD nursing, it is true holistic nursing. You are working with a person on their physical, social and psychological needs. It is very rewarding.”
Leighlan Phillips, who has recently become an AOD Nurse Practitioner Candidate, also said she “fell into” AOD nursing when she got her first job at a detox unit after TAFE.
“I was a bartender before I got that job, and looking back, I didn’t know at the time, but I had people coming in everyday who may have had a dependence on alcohol,” Leighlan said.
“Working at the detox unit opened up so many doors for my career in the AOD sector, and I enjoy working in it so much. Not only am I helping patients access better care, but I feel like I am playing a role in reducing stigma with the healthcare system. Through education and providing non-judgemental care to my patients, I hope I am encouraging other healthcare workers to be less stigmatising towards patients affected by alcohol and other drug use.”
The challenges AOD nurses face
Although AOD nursing does offer a holistic approach, nurses in this field do face unique challenges.
“AOD nursing can be quite isolating because sometimes you are the only AOD nurse at your workplace,” Jen said.
“That is why being a part of DANA is so great because it allows you to connect with other AOD nurses across Australia and New Zealand.”
Fellow DANA member, Amy Faden, also noted that people’s alcohol and other drug use has become more complex over the years, which can create challenges when providing appropriate treatment.
“A lot of people may be using more than one substance, but they might not be using enough of one to qualify for a pharmacotherapy program,” Amy said.
“Being a part of DANA is a good way to be informed about what is going on in other jurisdictions, and a great way to build relationships with other clinicians and academics who can help you figure out the best way to treat patients who may have co-occurring substance use or addiction and mental illness.”
The far-reaching influence of AOD nurses
Not only does Amy help people within the healthcare sector, she also provides education to large government organisations.
“Providing these education programs is important because it helps people re-evaluate their idea of what someone with an addiction looks and acts like, and they realise they could easily be in the same situation if they had experienced similar trauma to them. Having this sense of understanding then makes people more empathic to those who are struggling with their alcohol and drug use.”
“I also work with clinicians and nurses both within and outside the AOD sector because nowhere else in nursing is a specialty so in-demand. Whether you are a mental health nurse, aged care nurse or any other type of nurse or clinician, you are always going to come across a patient who has a drug or alcohol issue.”
The future of AOD nursing
This year's theme for International Nurses Day is ‘Our Nurses, Our Future’ which encourages us to look towards the future of the nursing profession.
For these three AOD nurses, they would all like to see an increase in education in alcohol and other drug treatment.
“A few members of DANA work and teach into undergraduate programs so they are spreading the word that way. It would be great to see standardised alcohol and other drug education across all universities.,” Jen said.
“We do also have an ageing workforce so we need to find ways to support senior nurses transition into retirement without losing all that knowledge base. We could do this by giving senior nurses mentoring roles so they can work with, and support, undergraduate and graduate nurses when they are first entering the AOD sector.”
“Education needs to be more than just clinical, it needs to look at the drivers of addiction and ways we can reduce stigma in healthcare,” Leighlan said.
“Also doing more harm minimisation work is something we need to keep moving forward.”
As well as improving education around alcohol and other drug treatment, Amy said she would also like to see more funding for the AOD sector.
“We need more funding so we can have more evidence-based treatments available to us.”