Crookwell is a small town in the NSW Southern Tablelands – population 2641. Goulburn is a 30-minute drive away and Canberra is 90 minutes away. So for many outlying farming communities, the small town’s hospital is often the first port of call in an emergency.
It’s also a place of familiarity for residents, with doctors and nurses doubling as aunties, uncles, cousins or close friends. Heidi Willsher is no stranger to these interwoven connections, and it was a return to a sense of belonging within a regional community and living close to her parents and sister that inspired her move to the area.
Crookwell District Hospital’s new head of nursing says it’s been a pleasant transition leaving an on-call lifestyle behind in Sydney where she worked in the aged care sector.
“I loved it in Sydney, but it was very demanding and very stressful,” says Heidi. “I was on-call 24/7 and it was continuous. It never stopped and the sector is so under-resourced. There are a lot of things you want to do to deliver the best care for your patients, but there are so many restrictions.”
Nursing came as a surprise to Heidi, who was determined to attend a hospitality management college after finishing school. However, when she didn’t get the marks for that, she chose the more caring profession.
In hindsight, it was a better fit.
“It was obviously where I was meant to be,” says Heidi. “I definitely think I’m much more suited to nursing. Even as I’ve moved into management roles, I still say I’m a nurse at heart. I love being able to care for people, help people and try to make things better.”
Heidi grew up in Lithgow, NSW, studied nursing in Bathurst and, like many country kids, was eager to make her way to the city. She found her feet in Canberra, went on to do a short stint in Batemans Bay, and ended up in Sydney for 12 years.
While her two children and three stepchildren were young, she saw the opportunity to work in management to avoid the endless rotation of nightshifts and early starts.
“Management is where I’ve ended up by default through promotion and then lifestyle,” says Heidi. “While the kids were little, it was hard to work shiftwork and that was very much what nursing on the floor and working in the emergency department required.”
She joined Crookwell District Hospital’s small but resourceful team on 5 July, 2021, and has hit the ground running with COVID-19 testing and a redevelopment added to her usual rotations.
“I spend quite a lot of my time on the floor,” says Heidi. “A lot of my day is around discharge planning, moving people in and out to different hospitals, and even organising people to go off for scans because we don’t have a lot of services here in Crookwell.
“Even our X-ray department is only open for a couple of days. There is a lot of coordinating and getting to know the patients who are mostly elderly and need support and services.”
She says what Crookwell District Hospital lacks in resources and facilities, it makes up for with brilliant staff who go the extra mile, such as taking on an extra shift to make an already stretched roster work, bringing in secondhand clothes for a family in need, or bolstering COVID-19 testing clinics as cases of the virus appear in Goulburn and Canberra.
“We accommodate what we can and do our best,” says Heidi. “The staff are very dedicated and caring people. They go above and beyond.”
Finding the position was fortunate timing as Heidi and her husband felt ready to leave Sydney. This was reinforced when her husband found a job at the local council.
Heidi feels grateful to have escaped the city during the COVID-19 pandemic, to be close to her family again and helping her team of nurses take care of the community’s multigenerational families.