Mackay nurses celebrate 75 years of compassionate care

26/Sep/2023     HealthMater Group

The Ron Camm Bridge and Caneland Shopping Centre were still plans on a page when Kathy Watt first became part of the Mater family in Mackay.

The perioperative nurse started her training in 1976 at the old Mater Hospital, then located in Mackay’s city centre – 27 years before it shifted to the banks of the Pioneer River in North Mackay.

She says there was a different approach to learning ‘back then’.

“We worked on the wards in every area at that time, including theatre – and I did not enjoy theatre one little bit,” Ms Watt said.

“Because the patients were usually asleep, I missed the patient contact we had on the wards, so I did whatever I could to get out of theatre.

“It earnt me the nickname ‘Klinger’, like the character on the TV show MASH, because he constantly tried to get out,” she laughed.

Once she was back on the wards, Ms Watt tried her hand at a few specialties, but eventually returned to theatre.

“I don’t know why I came back to it, but I loved it when I did,” she said.

“I have been in theatre for the last 30-odd years now.

“I love it because it’s when our patients are the most vulnerable and I can be there as they fall asleep, hold their hand and reassure them that I’m there to help them make their experience as pleasant as possible.”

Ms Watt has left an indelible mark on thousands of patients in her four decades at Mater in Mackay, spanning generations.

“If someone is coming in to have a baby and they say, ‘Mum said to look out for you because you were here when I was born,’ and you think ‘Oh no, that makes me so old’,” Ms Watt laughed.

“But you do have the patients where you’ve nursed either their parents or their grandparents - that connection is really beautiful.”

Ms Watt’s 40 years of compassionate care has been recognised this month with a Long Service Award - one of 24 awards being presented to Mater people in Mackay who have reached significant milestones in their careers.

Helen Weiss, a clinical nurse in Mackay’s Day Unit, was also recognised for her 35 years of service.

“I started my training in 1983 and apart from three months overseas, haven’t left!” Ms Weiss said.

“Funnily enough, Kathy was part of my wonderful learning experience when I did my theatre rotation as a student, and I guess that’s why I love theatre, because Kathy taught so wonderfully.

“I’ve been at the Day Unit for 19 years and am responsible for its day-to-day running.

“It’s a lovely little unit – very personal, small, the team gets along so well together.”

That’s what has kept the two of them at Mater for so long.

“We work together, socialise together, and have a lovely family unit,” Ms Watt said.

“Even those we don’t work with anymore, we still catch up with – it’s a lasting friendship that we all have.”

With a combined 75 years of service, the pair have witnessed a lot of change, particularly thanks to technology.

“For instance, when you go back and look at cataract surgery, we used to nurse patients for seven days,” Ms Watt said.

“They had to lie flat on the bed with sandbags on either side of their head, and they weren’t allowed pepper on their trays at night-time in case they sneezed and damaged their eyes.

“Now they walk in and walk out the same day.”

Asked to describe their careers in one word, both nurses say ‘rewarding’.

“I look back and some of the cases are really sad – they still bring tears to your eyes,” Ms Watt said.

“But the overwhelming response we get from patients when we see them walk out of hospital when their procedure goes well, we’re so grateful for what we can help them with.”

“If I could share one piece of advice with other nurses it’s to spend time with your patients, talk with them, care for them,” Ms Weiss said.

“And it’s OK to cry with them if you need to – it shows that you care – and that is a beautiful part of the job, to share with the patient.”


Pictured: Left: Kathy Watt, Right: Helen Weiss

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