No seven year itch for St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital nurse


For many, the idea of being in a job for more than a couple of years is enough to induce a series of cold shivers down the spine, but for Emergency Nurse Susan McMahon, those shivers turned in seven amazing years at St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital (SAWMH), and a career that she can’t imagine ever leaving. 

Growing up in Ireland, Susan began her nursing studies and remembers always looking forward to hearing stories of Australia from her Sydney-residing uncle. 

“The weather just called to me”, she says with a laugh, “and after hearing so many stories of the great land down under, I wondered how nursing could take me to see if for myself. I came to Australia for six months to see what it was all about, and eight years later I haven’t looked back.

Susan speaks as though she was predestined to nurse and her passion for the sector comes through in everything she says. 

“I always knew that I wanted to help and care for people. My first day in the wards during my placement I called mum (after a 12 hour day!) and said, ‘This is it, Mum. This is what I want to do’.”

Susan says her colleagues and patients always keep her on her toes (literally) and that her life has been a constant journey. 

Susan moved to Australia in 2012 starting out in orthopaedics at SAWMH and then moved into the emergency department where she realised that no two days would be the same. 

“Some days you get tired but you don’t realise until you get home. While you’re in the moment, you just don’t notice - people are trusting and relying on you, to help them back to better health. 

“Changing someone’s day is the best medicine for me - it’s my way of recharging. Being there for someone who’s not feeling well usually brings about my best days.”

When talking about the culture behind St Andrew’s, Susan says the nurses are from all over the world including South Africa, Ireland, South Korea, Africa and beyond. 

“We all want the same thing for our patients and that’s the best outcome - and that’s where the beauty happens. Listening to everyone’s unique stories about their training feeds your hunger and your enthusiasm.”

Susan says it's often the ‘firsts’ that make a career memorable. 

“Every day can present a new first - the first day of being a nurse, the first day in a new health system, the first meeting with a new patient, a new team member...They all hold a special place in your memories; you never stop learning.

“You meet nurses and sometimes only once, but often they leave a deep impression with their care and patience, and that’s really inspiring.”

You can’t help but feel drawn to Susan - her tone is warm, her energy inviting, and her belief in the importance of nurses to communities is nothing short of moving. 

“Your patients will teach you everything you need to know about helping them. They’re the experts. If you’re really listening they will tell you everything you need to know. 

“As patients come in presenting symptoms they often continue to say how stressed they are about something else going on in their lives. Usually that stressor is exacerbating their symptoms and you need to listen beyond the obvious hurt to manage their health more wholly.”

Susan notes that while the world is changed by a pandemic, many things remain the same.

“Lots of people have been coming in lately coughing or sneezing being very worried that they have coronavirus. They say they have elderly people they need to see and are worried about that. 

“Hearing health professionals say that things will be good again seems to really resonate with patients at the moment. Some things are becoming the new normal but we’re still here to help. It makes me feel so proud to be a nurse – to see how we’ve all come together every day even in moments of fear. The support from our bosses and community has been unbelievable.”

Upon hitting the seven year mark with St Andrew’s, Susan began to think about her next years.

“You walk the halls here and there’s so many familiar faces - everyone knows each other and it’s a really nice community to be a part of. From the first shift I did here, I knew it was somewhere to belong, and today it’s still somewhere I’m proud to belong to.”

“I’ve thought about leaving”, she says with a laugh, “but there’s no way I could move on from the incredible people I work with and our patients. I’m always grateful to St Andrew’s for giving me my first job and for sponsoring me. I can’t imagine working for someone else now.”