Meet our first honorary nurse tutors

With a COVID-19 vaccine possibly live by the end of 2021,  and vaccine hesitancy on the rise, students graduating from the Department of General Practice’s Nurse Immunisation course will have their work cut out for them, say their tutors.

Victoria’s first immunisation nurse practitioner is one of two nurses to join the Department of General Practice as honorary tutors – the first nurses ever to do so in the Department’s history.

Nurse immunisers are registered nurses who have completed extra study to allow them to give routine national immunisation program vaccinations to adults and children independent of a medical order.  These nurses work in general practice, municipal councils, outpatient departments, occupational health services, prisons and other community services such as refugee health.

Sonja Elia (left) and Jane Goldsmith.
Sonja Elia (left) and Jane Goldsmith.

Sonja Elia estimates she’s administered 50,000 jabs over more than 17 years as the state’s first immunisation practitioner. She’s the nurse manager of the immunisation clinic at the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH), putting students through their paces on their placements.

“My work has changed significantly since COVID,” she says.  “Our Immunisation service has seen a dramatic reduction in numbers of patients presenting for vaccines, which has led us to be innovative and implement a drive-through vaccination clinic.  Since then, the patient numbers have improved.”

...nurse immunises will be pivotal in reassuring the public about vaccine safety and vaccine efficacy

Colleague Jane Goldsmith says her own practice has had to rapidly adapt to comply with recommendations on infection control, including PPE, phone screening and extra cleaning and longer hours to minimise overcrowding.

“We also conduct an increasing number of home visits for vulnerable children and or families for whom attending a council service is challenging,” Jane says.  “Clients on our home visit list include multiple births, premature infants, and children with chronic health conditions. We enter the house for a minimal amount of time, usually less than five minutes, as we are able to conduct the pre and post-checking outside the house.”

During the pandemic, Sonja and Jane have continued encourage and support our student placements throughout COVID.  Where placements have been cancelled due to regulations, they have maintained contact with the students so that they do not feel abandoned and have continued to offer placements when safe or authorised to do so.

Sonja says nurse immunisers will play a pivotal role in ensuring the success of a future Covid-19 vaccine. Our immunisation students come from two streams.  Students in the Graduate Certificate in Primary Care Nursing complete Immunisation and Travel Health as an elective.  Students can directly enrol in our continuing professional development, Immunisation (Nurse Immuniser ).

“With a COVID-19 vaccine likely to be in our future, the role of the nurse immuniser will be pivotal in reassuring the public about vaccine safety and vaccine efficacy as well as involvement in mass immunisation delivery programs,” she says.

By delivering a high quality immunisation education program for nurses, this course prepares participants to play an important role in ensuring high immunisation coverage and public confidence in vaccine programs, whether that is administering vaccines, participating in clinical vaccine research trials or working in vaccine policy or education.  The roles for Nurse Immunisers are varied.”