Our 2018 HESTA Australian Nurse of the Year, Gail Yarran, has faced obstacles in her life and stellar 50 year career that most of us can’t imagine.
Her award recognises not just her huge achievements in nursing, but her determination to transcend generations of exclusion. Gail was awarded for improving health care services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across her home state of Western Australia.
A Noongar woman from Balladong and Wadjak peoples, Gail is the elder and registered nurse in the Maternal Child Health team at Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service Aboriginal Corporation, delivering primary health care to women and children who may not otherwise access health services.
“My work includes getting our antenatal patients to see their GPs and midwives, because a high proportion of our girls don’t go to their check-ups until later on in their pregnancies,” Gail explains.
“Gail is a powerhouse,” affirms Manager and award nominator Liesl Baxter. “She overcame immense challenges, including prejudice and lack of workforce inclusion, to gain her tertiary nursing qualification. She now takes every opportunity to advocate for and serve her community.”
“I’ve been very passionate about nursing from a young age,” Gail says. “When I was in school the teacher asked ‘What would you like to be when you leave?’ I said I’d like to be a nurse. The whole class laughed and made fun of me. That stuck in my heart. It gave me the determination to succeed.”
That passion has translated into life-changing action. “Early in her career Gail witnessed many adverse experiences Indigenous clients suffered in hospital admissions,” Liesl notes. “That’s where her advocacy for culturally appropriate care began. “It’s not unusual for Gail to wander the parks during lunch time and weekends, outreaching to homeless populations. She might use art therapy in the clinic room while yarning to establish trust with a client, or kick a footy or blow bubbles with a child during a health assessment.”
Somehow, Gail also finds time to mentor nursing students and practitioners; hold multiple advisory roles; and develop projects to help her patients reach health parity, including a culturally appropriate antenatal screening tool ‘Baby Coming - You Ready?’
Gail’s prize money from proud Awards sponsors ME – the bank for you – will help her explore how to improve antenatal health services in regions such as the Kimberley and Pilbara. She also plans to research culturally appropriate heart health programs as a nurse ambassador with The Heart Foundation.
“I would like to see better health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and their babies,” Gail says simply. “I know I can’t close the gap, but I can do my little part to make a difference.”