Noala Flynn AM was a passionate nurse and leader who worked selflessly to support those in palliative care. In 2005 her contributions to this field of care resulted in her being awarded the Member of the Order of Australia.
Recognising the difference Noala made in the lives of both the people who are dying and the ones who love them, her family chose to honour her after she passed away in 2020 by establishing an annual award dedicated to acknowledging outstanding palliative care nursing in Victoria.
This year our very own St John of God Frankston Rehabilitation Hospital caregiver and Associate Nurse Unit Manager (ANUM) Jeni Whitefield was the deserving recipient of this prestigious award and it’s easy to understand why.
“It’s humbling knowing you’ve impacted someone’s life and their family’s,” explains Jeni. “Being able to ensure my patients’ comfort and symptoms are managed so they can have quality time with their loved ones is such a privilege to have bestowed upon me.”
For Jeni, who grew up wanting to be a midwife, she sees the connection between birth and dying and the holistic spiritual care needed for people experiencing these life events as both similar and indeed, equally special. It’s this perception that helps Jeni explain why she was drawn to the field of palliative care in the first place, despite being an ANUM of a rehabilitation unit.
Drawn to palliative care
“It was challenging to be opening palliative care beds alongside a rehabilitation ward,” says Jeni who was tasked with establishing the new unit when St John of God Health Care decided to diversify its Frankston services to meet local demand in March last year.
“In a rehabilitation hospital our work is largely about encouraging independence and working with our patients to get back on their feet and fit enough to go home,” offers Jeni. “Whereas our work with palliative patients requires a change in focus of care, with us supporting them as much as we can to retain quality of life for as long as possible ─ unlike rehab where the main goal is to improve it.”
Nominated by fellow caregiver and ANUM Leah Ebanks, Jeni was officially acknowledged for her role in displaying exceptional dedication and perseverance as lead nurse in the establishment of the new palliative care service.
“This was a significant shift for our hospital and our caregivers,” admits Leah. “But Jeni played a pivotal role in educating and supporting staff in providing high quality care for our community. I nominated Jeni because she worked tirelessly setting up policies and protocols and is always a joy to work with.”
Caring for others and reducing suffering
Leah continues, “Regardless of what is happening on the ward, Jeni greets everyone with a smile and her genuine passion for caring for others and reducing suffering shines through in everything she does,” says Leah, adding that, “Jeni is the kindest, most knowledgeable, empathetic and compassionate nurse I have ever worked with. I feel very blessed to work alongside her. None of what we have achieved with this new unit would have been possible without her.”
CEO of Palliative Care Victoria Violet Platt confirmed Leah’s statements and highlighted Jeni’s unwavering commitment to both her patients and their loved ones, as well as her fellow caregivers, noting that Jeni “truly exemplifies the passion and leadership that this award aims to recognise.”
“We congratulate Jeni Whitefield on receiving the Noala Flynn AM Award for Excellence in Palliative Care Nursing. Her exceptional work in establishing and leading the palliative care service at St John of God Frankston Rehabilitiation Hospital is a testament to her dedication, compassion and expertise.”
This is not the first award Jeni has been nominated for. Last year, as part of the organisation’s annual CEO Awards, Jeni was also highly commended by her peers for going above and beyond in her efforts to open the new palliative care unit.
A credit to our organisation
St John of God Frankston Rehabilitation Hospital Director of Clinical Services Karen Ward says, “Jeni is a credit to our organisation. At the time of establishing our new palliative care unit we had no other trained palliative care nurses at Frankston, so Jeni volunteered to transfer from our Berwick campus to help support our team. It was a decision that has greatly benefitted our caregivers, as well as the patients and families she has cared for. She’s a well-deserving recipient and we are delighted to see that she has been recognised through the Noala Flynn Award for all the amazing work she does.”
While Jeni was not short of people wanting to praise her as a result of this award, she was quick to point out that the success of the new unit could be largely attributed to the team she works with.
“I work with amazingly supportive colleagues so although I was overwhelmed when I’d learned I’d been nominated, I wasn’t surprised that they would go to those lengths to champion me. I’m really proud of what we have achieved in the past year. I love working in palliative care and receiving feedback in the way of these kind of awards and from families thanking us for our care, is truly a gift that I am forever grateful for. It makes me proud to be a palliative care nurse and proud of the service we provide to people at the most vulnerable time of their lives.”