Local nursing legend Steph Shannon, who ran the children's ward at Ipswich Hospital for 37 years, shares her experience of epidemics and the challenges of nursing in the late Fifties.
Local nursing legend Steph Shannon, who ran the children's ward at Ipswich Hospital for 37 years, shares her experience of epidemics and the challenges of nursing in the late Fifties.

THANK YOU: Recognising our nursing legends

West Moreton Health nurses will pause to celebrate International Day of the Nurse today but it will be much like other days because the health needs of the community always come first.

Executive Director of Nursing and Midwifery Karyn Ehren said although nurses and midwives generally like to stay out of the limelight, they deserve to be recognised for all they do to maintain the health and wellbeing of the community.

“I know that the community appreciates our nursing and midwifery staff because they often write to tell us of their positive experiences in the community and our hospitals, including Emergency, operating theatres, maternity and wards,” Ms Ehren said.

“This year, our nurses and midwives have had the extra work of preparing for COVID-19 patients and practising social distancing, and they have risen to meet those challenges as well.”

Ms Ehren said that while preparation and care for any patients presenting with COVID-19 symptoms has been a priority, nurses across West Moreton – in Boonah, Gatton, Esk, Laidley and Ipswich, at hospitals, dental, mental health, prison health and community services – were still providing consumers with the best possible care.

Local nursing legend, Steph Shannon, is glad there is a day to recognise all that nurses do.

Ms Shannon, who ran the children’s ward at Ipswich Hospital for 37 years, brought many positive changes to paediatric nursing, including allowing parents to stay overnight with their child.

She trained at Ipswich Hospital in the late 1950s in a hierarchical environment where there was little protection against serious childhood diseases such as scarlatina and measles.

“When I started my training, the matrons and many senior nurses were very hard on us,” Ms Shannon said. “Hospitals were run like military operations back then.

“We gave one of the nursing dormitories the nickname ‘Onion Alley’ because so many of us would go there to cry.”

In 1967, Steph took up the challenge of nursing on Banaba, a remote island in the Pacific Ocean.

Not long after she arrived, a measles epidemic led to 147 children being admitted to the island’s hospital. The older children had to sleep head to toe while the youngest ones slept widthways, three to a bed.

Steph recruited 20 local mothers, none of whom spoke English, to assist the nursing staff. “The mothers were amazing – following instructions and sponging the children’s bodies to keep their temperatures down – even placing children under the water of outdoor taps.”

To Ms Shannon’s and her colleagues’ credit, the outbreak ended without a single loss of life.

What advice would Ms Shannon give young nurses today as they go about their jobs with the added challenge of protecting patients and themselves from COVID-19?

“Let anxiety sharpen your senses but don’t let it sap your emotional reserves,” she said. “Instead, direct your energy towards building self-resilience and deepening your humanity towards others, especially those on the margins.

“This attitude has always been the hallmark of West Moreton nurses.”