Marist College Ashgrove has a team of beloved nursing sisters who help keep country boarders, day boys and staff in tip-top shape.

Story Ken Eastwood  Photo Marist College Ashgrove  

Nurse manager Jane O’Shea says the health clinic she runs at Marist College Ashgrove, in Brisbane, is a bit like an emergency department in a small country town. The huge school has 1700 boys from year 5 to year 12, 170 boarders, an extensive rugby program with more than 600 players, as well as dozens of teachers and staff, all of which keep the 9 nursing staff very busy.

“We look after all of the health needs,” Jane says. “Boarders are a real priority for us, but we also look after all the day boys and the staff. We open the clinic at 7am and in rugby season there’s a lot of training going on, so you’ve got a head assessment by 7.05am.”

A 20-year veteran of the school, Jane says as well as dealing with accidents, the clinic handles illness, mental health, homesickness, medical education, dental health, ingrown toenails and any other issues the boys have. “We’ve got 8 boarders staying in the clinic at the moment and 4 of them have COVID. We’ve got a boarder having surgery today with a broken foot, and another one recently had cardiac surgery. We’re involved in the telehealth at appointment time so we know how to deal with them when they come back. We have run first-aid classes for boarders and given health and hygiene talks to younger boys. It’s so varied and that’s why it’s such an interesting job.”

The clinic stays open until 9pm, and then a nurse is on-call 24/7. The boys call all the nurses ‘sister’.

Jane describes many of the boarders from rural, regional and remote areas in the NT, NSW and Queensland as “delightful and capable kids”. “We’ve got a lot of kids who are from stations and when holidays happen they start to work. We say, ‘Have a good holiday,’ and they reply, ‘I’m going home for some serious work’. They’re not afraid of it though.”

Like some of the other nurses, Jane has experience with remote area nursing, having been involved in clinics in the Aboriginal community Cherbourg, near Kingaroy, Qld, and also having flown into areas such as Charters Towers to educate nurses in oncology. 

She says one of her favourite parts of the job is having “maternal conversations” with boarders from country areas who wander into the health centre. “There’s a lot of homesickness, there’s a lot of emotional support. A lot of the boys just come in to have the chat that they’d probably have at home with a parent.” 

This story excerpt is from Issue #152

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2024