Gwen retires at 80 years young

When psychiatric nurse Gwen Bernoth cut the cake at her retirement party, she knew it wasn’t the last chapter in her nursing career.

After a ‘bit of a breather’ Gwen plans to return to Ryde Community Health Services as a volunteer.

‘In fact my team leader invited me back before I’d even left,’ said Gwen, who has been getting plenty of phone calls from friends at work who miss her ‘fire in the belly’ approach to the job.

‘I believe nursing is a special calling. I was inspired to switch in my late thirties by my younger sister who always wanted to be a nurse – and I was attracted to mental health because it looked interesting.

‘I joined Macquarie Hospital because it was a modern place and had modern ideas about mental health. I found it challenging but really the attraction lay in the idea that “there but for the grace of God go I”. In today’s society we’re all walking a fine line. I mean, some things are much better, like medicines and computers, but I don’t think us humans have improved.

‘I think nursing requires the same motivations today as when I started – you have to have a lot of care. It’s not just a job. It requires dedication because we are dealing with people’s lives.

‘The nursing degree is a great thing in this day and age but I think it needs to be more balanced with the practical. When we started at the hospital we had lots of loyalty and support, and an income.

‘We lose a lot of young ones today because they finish their degrees and find it’s not for them. Nursing has to be your “way”… you know, what you really want to do.’

Gwen believes the challenge for mental health services is to help patients overcome loneliness.

‘There’s a lot of lonely people out there. I think we need to develop more hostel-type accommodation so that people feel part of a community and are motivated to get up and about.’

After 42 years in nursing Gwen is taking a wealth of memories with her.

‘In all my time I only had a couple of problems and the Union helped me sort those out – particularly my long service leave – and I thank them for that.

‘I’m writing Brett [Holmes, General Secretary] a letter today to thank him personally for the Union’s support, and for the bottle of bubbly!’.

Apart from volunteer work, Gwen plans to spend more time with her grandchildren and great grandchildren (one also a nurse) and continue traveling and exploring the world.