Donna’s dedication wins HESTA award

When Donna Muscardin underwent chemotherapy last year, rather than focusing on her own problem, she chose to channel her energy into helping others.

One year later she was cleared of cancer and won the NSW section of the HESTA Innovation in Nursing award for a ground-breaking sexual health project.

‘It was a difficult time in my life and it made me really think about what’s important. For me it was simple – my kids and my work,’ said Donna.

So, with the help of her children – Kylie, a nurse, and Saul, a musician/engineer – Donna set about designing a program to address the decline in under 25s accessing her sexual clinic.

Understanding the importance of music as a medium for youth, and being a musician herself, Donna did what came naturally and penned a song Check me out.

Donna is no stranger to innovation and multi-tasking and believes day-to-day clinical work in rural areas requires a jack-of-all-trades mentality. So, the transition to performer and media educator was not a huge leap. She was also one of the first nurse practitioners appointed in sexual health in Australia.

The Check me out CD and Power Point presentation, which has since been endorsed by the Australasian Sexual Health Nurses’ Association, received widespread media attention resulting in more than 30 interviews, considerable airplay, and a 25% increase in young people accessing sexual health services in the Hunter region.

‘I just knew it would get up – I had this feeling,’ said Donna.

‘Originally when I took the song to Saul it had a bluesy feel and he said, “Mum, no one will listen to that old melody”. So we sat down with guitars and set about writing a new one. Saul added the clever subtext through the hip-hop choruses.

‘We spent a full day in the studio and he was very tough. He’d say, “no, Mum, you have to do it again”.’

Colleague and sexual-health comrade CNS Julie Elmes supported Donna throughout the project, keeping the endeavour ‘on message’ and on budget.

The project, made possible with a grant from the NSW Nursing and Midwifery Scholarship Fund, gained enthusiastic approval from the Hunter/New England Area’s Director of Nursing, Chris Kewley, who arranged a meeting with the NSW Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer, Professor Debra Thoms.

‘They loved it and the managers loved it. The award is great but the best thing is the song’s success [in reaching young people] and the change in attitude in the health service,’ Donna said.

‘This style of intervention might be the way of the future. There is no reason why we can’t extend it from sex and drugs to other to youth issues like obesity, smoking and mental health. I mean, why not do it through music? I don’t know anyone who hates music.’

Donna is throwing the idea out there. She believes an annual health award for music with a message for youth could keep the momentum going.

‘Why can’t we get kids involved and put up a $5,000 award for music with a message?’ she suggested.

Mandy-Lee Ryan, from Condobolin Health Services, won the NSW section of the Nurse of the Year award, which recognises the achievements of individual nurses in the delivery of outstanding patient care.