For as long as she can remember, Stephanie Barwick wanted to be a nurse.
“I still have a drawing from when I was in kindergarten when we were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, and I drew a nurse,” Ms Barwick said.
Now 38 and having fulfilled her dream, Stephanie has been appointed Interim Executive Officer of Mater Private Hospital Townsville.
As one of regional Queensland’s leading private hospitals, Mater Private Hospital Townsville completes more than 10,000 procedures a year and employs more than 950 staff, including 200 doctors. While Mater has always prided itself on high-quality cardiac and cancer services for North Queensland as well as being a leader in maternity services, with more than 600 births a year at Mater Mothers’ Hyde Park campus, in recent years, Mater has also emerged as a leader in robotic technology.
Stephanie said the opportunity to return to Mater Private Hospital Townsville as Interim Executive Officer was a full-circle moment.
“This is a really serendipitous moment for me; the right opportunities just seemed to present themselves at the right times, and I put my name forward because this role is something I’d always dreamt of since I first began at Mater in 2005. I feel honoured to be in this position, having started my career at Mater as a high school student.
“I went to St Patrick’s College Townsville where all students complete a week of work experience in year 11, and I was fortunate to complete mine at Mater. The next year, I can still remember being taken aback when we had to write second and third choices for our university applications – but nursing was all I had in my future, I had no second option!
“I completed my Bachelor of Nursing Science through James Cook University and then applied for a graduate program and became a graduate at Mater in 2005. It was a fantastic experience that cemented nursing as my future – I love that it allows you to help people at their greatest times of need, providing them with comfort, care and safety. It’s rewarding, not only professionally, but personally.
“Following this, I worked here for a few years, but then wanted to broaden my horizons and ensure I knew what to do in larger hospitals, so I accepted a short-term contract down South and worked in the Emergency Department at Mater Hospital Brisbane.
“After returning home from that, I specialised in intensive care for my postgraduate degree and then, wanting to gain that big smoke experience, accepted another short-term contract at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Sydney’s Intensive Care Unit.”
Stephanie said she wanted to share as much of her experience with others as possible.
“When I returned to Townsville I asked if I could deliver education in the ICU and from there became the Intensive Care Educator, before accepting a position at Mater Education as a Simulation Educator, where I focused and honed my skills in that area for several years.
“In healthcare, simulations are techniques which replicate the real world in a variety of ways from physical simulations with mannequins and trained simulation patients through to virtual reality. It’s an opportunity to not only train and prepare our Mater People but also to test the environments we work in and how people interact within them.
“When I first started at Mater Education, there was a gap in how we trained our clinicians in resuscitation, and particularly understanding how they would respond in emergency situations. I set up what we call a pop-up simulation program, which trains staff in the emergency response process and tests that our internal systems are built well.”
This simulation program was then adopted across the organisation and recognised at both national and international levels.
“One of the things I learned a lot through my time researching and through developing my expertise in simulations is how to build teams, have challenging conversations and how to give and receive feedback. These, combined with the experience of having been a clinician who had worked in the hospital I’m now leading, all contributed to me being able to understand the challenges our people face and how to lead them.
“Even back in 2005 I was so proud of being a Mater nurse, and I’m the type of person who would rather play the game than sit on the sideline – so now being able to have some influence in shaping the future of Mater is exciting to me.
“I would love people who come and work at Mater and who are cared for at Mater to have the experience that I had throughout my 10 years as a nurse on the floor at Mater in Townsville.”
Through Mater Education, Mater Private Hospital Townsville now offers a Diploma of Nursing course from its Pimlico campus, which has seen 72 students graduate since the program launched in North Queensland in January 2020. 33 students are currently studying the diploma, with a new cohort commencing in January 2023.
Having recently welcomed a baby boy, Stephanie is now beginning to look to the future.
“People always used to ask me what my five-year plan is and I’ve never really had one because I really do believe in taking the opportunities in front of you and giving them the best crack – but now I definitely see myself in Townsville for the next few years with both myself and my husband Townsville locals – it’s where we want to be,” she said
“Having a family definitely changes the lens through which you view things and motivates you to build a more sustainable world – not only environmentally, but just ensuring we’re meeting the needs of future communities. From a Mater perspective, this extends to both the health service we deliver and our impact on the lives of our staff and patients.”
Mater Private Hospital Townsville’s 10-year master plan is entering its next stages, with plans to relocate Mater Mothers’ from Hyde Park to the Pimlico campus in addition to a new Renal Unit, providing all Mater services from the one facility.
Looking ahead, Stephanie said Mater’s strong partnerships locally contributed to a stronger and healthier community.
“It’s important to note that while Townsville is considered a city, we’re still a relatively small community, with Mater Private Hospital and the Townsville University Hospital both key pillars of this community.
“Working together can only ever be advantageous for our community into the future; we currently have a really good relationship with Townsville University Hospital and there are certainly more collaborative opportunities in the future to further meet the health needs of our residents.
“The opportunity to become part of one Mater at a State level is equally exciting, with the opportunity to share experiences, knowledge, and technology – we have already seen this in Townsville with the introduction of several perioperative robots.
“I feel like it is an opportunity for every Mater facility, especially in the regions, to reach its full potential – and while we aren’t there yet, we can be by continuing to collaborate and innovate.”