Passion for nursing a family affair

Juliet and Niamh Carter graduate from UOW Shoalhaven, both with a Bachelor of Nursing

Mother and daughter reflect on their experiences studying together

Juliet Carter is a people person, driven by a powerful desire to help others. Her pathway to nursing was one she admits she did not necessarily see on the cards when she first moved to Australia from the United Kingdom 14 years ago, having spent close to two decades working in the UK Navy and police force.

For Niamh Carter, Juliet’s eldest daughter, nursing struck a chord as early as four years of age, when she was affectionately called “Nurse Niamh” at home, caring for her soft toys dressed in her Red Cross nurse’s apron, cape and hat.

On Thursday 25 January, the mother and daughter duo both celebrated their graduation from UOW with a Bachelor of Nursing. They were joined by their family at the ceremony at Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre celebrating alongside their fellow UOW Shoalhaven graduates.

It was a momentous achievement given they completed their degrees at the same time, despite starting separately.

Travel has always played a huge part of Juliet’s life. She started her career in the Royal Navy in the UK in 1985, living the military life of travelling around, working in Northern Ireland, Gibraltar and London. After 12 years she left the Navy to pursue a career in the UK police force.

Juliet Carter on stage at graduation. Photo: Michael Gray Juliet receives her degree from Chancellor Michael Still. 

For the now mother-of-three, having a young family and military husband, who was often away from home, was not conducive to a life in the police force.

“It was quite different back then, in the public service. It was a challenge. Trying to juggle all your balls in the air just did not work,” Juliet said.

She left the police force after seven years, had her third child, and started home study before deciding her next move. It was an online course in biology and human physiology that sparked her interest to change career direction.

The family moved to Australia in 2009 for Juliet’s husband’s job. In a new country, Juliet said as a ‘military wife’ she was lucky that “the military were paying for spouses to do courses that might get them into work wherever their partner was posted.”

She studied pathology. The juggle of online coursework and part-time pathology work, while her husband was deployed, suited her family, as her three children were all now in school.

Juliet’s introduction to nursing came about just as the world was coming to grips with COVID-19. Starting out as an enrolled nurse, with no prior hospital experience, Juliet remembers early conversations about the new disease while trying to learn the ropes of a new career.

“I got thrown into the deep end. It was a terrifying experience,” Juliet said.

Juliet Carter, centre with a graduation gown and cap, is kissed on the cheek by her daughter (left) and husband (right). Photo: Michael Gray Juliet with her daughter and husband.

Her apprehension about her new job was quickly replaced with the challenge of gaining knowledge and experience caring for COVID patients.

“The ward I went on, in Shoalhaven Hospital, became the COVID ward. We had to move next to ICU and go through all this extra training, learning how to assist ICU when patients were intubated,” Juliet said.

The seriousness of the situation grew and significantly impacted Juliet, making her desire to help others stronger.

“Two months go by, and it was getting worse and worse. We were seeing patients die, and thinking ‘oh this is terrible, when will the pandemic end’.”

Juliet was always keen to pursue study to become a Registered Nurse (RN) but initially had reservations about the academic requirements.

“It is only that when you start working as an enrolled nurse that you start to realise that actually, you can, it is possible,” Juliet said.

With the help of an inspiring supervisor (who later became a trusted friend) she took the plunge.

The decision to study nursing was a family decision for the mother-daughter pair.

“Mum [Juliet] was an enrolled nurse already, she wanted to do her RN as well, so she thought why don’t we do it at the same time, so we can help each other out,” Niamh said.

Starting a university degree as a mature age student, Juliet was given credit for prior experience, and started in her second year part-time while her daughter Niamh was successful in gaining early-entry during her final year of high school and started her first year of full-time study.

Niamh Carter on stage at graduation. Photo: Michael Gray Niamh on stage with Chancellor Michael Still. 

“Studying together was good, we were on the same page, and we could discuss the subjects together and share our experiences on placement,” Niamh said.

Niamh was only 17 when she went on her first nursing placement.

“I was extremely nervous; it was up in Camden. It was my first time driving to Sydney. After my first placement I knew what to expect. Each placement was vastly different, but each placement got easier, in terms of nerves. They were all interesting,” Niamh said.

“I did two theatre placements, that sparked my interest in wanting to be a theatre nurse.

“In third-year mum decided to go full-time so that we could finish together.”

Niamh moved out of the family home in Nowra to Wollongong, but the pair continued attending campus together once or twice a week for classes.

Niamh has now secured a New Graduate position in theatre at Wollongong Public Hospital and is excited to start in February.

Reflecting on her time at UOW Shoalhaven, Niamh was thankful for the staff’s unwavering support.

“The tutors were lovely. Kim Allen and Gloria Sherman, they are the most beautiful tutors ever, they were so helpful, nothing was ever too much for them,” Niamh said.

While the academic side of studying was initially daunting for Juliet, she said with the support of the staff on campus she was able to adjust and thrive at university.

“At the first opportunity I sought help. The study was online, which I found quite challenging. I like to see things face-to-face; I am quite a practical person. I am from the era of ‘monkey see, monkey do’ rather than just read about it,” Juliet said.

“I am a bit wordy. In the police force when you write a statement you must capture everything you hear, otherwise it is inadmissible, so I tended to do that when I was writing my essays, they were far too wordy in the beginning.”

Niamh Carter, in a graduation gown and cap, smiles in front of the Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre. Photo: MIchael Gray Niamh Carter at Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre

Juliet has used her previous experience to her advantage in the hospital setting.

“I am 56 years old; I find it useful for me being that age. I can talk to patients. You start a bit of a conversation, and sometimes it puts the patient at ease. I like the ability to be able to relate to them, to chat to them, relax them a bit.”

Juliet admits that even after 14 years, she is still adjusting to civilian life.

“It is a funny feeling going from military to civilian life. Especially as my husband is still very military orientated and my son is also a serving member of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) having completed his degree at the ADF Academy in Canberra.”

Juliet is keen to study further, a Master degree, but for now is looking forward to starting her New Graduate position at Nowra Private Hospital.

The pair’s time at UOW Shoalhaven will be one they will treasure for many years to come.

Juliet is now looking forward to supporting her youngest daughter on her own university journey - she has started studying social work at UOW Shoalhaven - at what Juliet calls the Shoalhaven’s “hidden jewel”.