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International Nurses Day: Celebrating those very special specialists

nurse and patient
10 May 2018

This Saturday 12th May, sees us recognising International Nurses Day. It’s no coincidence that it’s also the birthday of the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale.

For many of us in the MS community, this day is the perfect time to celebrate the work of our MS nurses, often the first person someone newly diagnosed speaks to after hearing those life changing words, “you have multiple sclerosis.” Indeed, as time goes on, the whole family or support network will often form a strong bond with the MS nurse; they become an integral part of the treatment and management of the disease but more importantly, they become a part of the extended MS family, following the triumphs and major life milestones, rejoicing the good times and being someone to lean on in those tougher times.

Jillian Kingsford Smith is a journalist and author whose next book sees her interviewing and exploring the passionate path of 25 specialist MS nurses from around the world.

“Choosing a career and caring for patients every day who live with a significant chronic illness takes a special mentality,” explains Jillian. “This book intricately explores those character traits and life experiences that lead someone into a specialist nursing role.

“The role of the MS nurse is considered vital to both neurologists and researchers in the MS community - let alone the person diagnosed with this disease and their family. Yet the broader population would have little awareness of the impact this nursing professional has around the world. Not just as a resource for the patient and their family, but for the economic implications on the greater economy in keeping capable and enthusiastic people living with a chronic disease in the workplace,” says Jillian.

In 2017, Multiple Sclerosis Australia got together with a group of key stakeholders to find ways to support advocacy and lobbying efforts, which hope to achieve increased support for these specialist MS nurses (MSSN) in Australia.

“MSSNs provide holistic and specialist support in symptom management and are key in assisting the patient and their family to navigate a complex number of service systems (health, disability, community and aged care), in order to access the right support at the right time,” explained the CEO of Multiple Sclerosis Australia, Deidre Mackechnie.

“They work closely with medical staff in providing practical and individualised information for patients to make informed choices on treatment options best suited to their MS and lifestyle. They also assist with safety and monitoring reporting, which is crucial to avoid serious adverse reactions especially with several of the newer disease modifying therapies.

“Employing specialist nurses to manage the requirements of patients living with chronic conditions makes economic sense. There is a strong foundation of international and Australian research to support this and it is no less true for MSSNs.”

“My MS Nurse has been such a positive and supportive force for me since day one,” says Jillian. “She has encouraged me to get on with life and also been that ‘safe haven’ for me when I’ve felt the tremendous fear you experience from time to time living with MS. She’s my cheer-squad, guardian angel, health advocate and friend, all rolled into one. I feel so grateful to have her in my life.” 

International Nurses Day provides a chance to acknowledge and applaud the crucial contribution all nurses make to the Australian health system each and every day. Just as importantly, it provides an opportunity for us to examine ways to keep their valuable work and contribution sustainable and supported for the wider MS community.

To learn more about the current status of MS specialist nurses in Australia, read our Multiple Sclerosis Specialist Nurses in Australia Report 2017 here.

Jillian Kingsford Smith has worked internationally as a journalist, turning her hand to writing books in 2012 when she was diagnosed with MS at the age of 42. Jillian’s first two books (Taking Control and Taking Control Together) were best sellers. She is a Kiss Goodbye to MS Ambassador, advocate for MS specialist nursing and best-selling author.