Maningrida to Manhattan
Registered Nurse Sue Ellen Kovack left her nomadic lifestyle as a remote area nurse in Australia for the Big Apple in November 2016. As she says, she went “from one extreme (in so many ways), to another.” Here’s her story.
Canadian-born Sue Ellen Kovack moved to Australia 25 years ago, continuing her nursing career in operating-theatre work. Little did she realise the dramatic turns her life would take.
A few years later, Sue Ellen was introduced to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) by friends who had just returned from Lokichogio in Kenya, on the Sudanese border. That was just the start.
“It sounded fascinating, and they needed theatre nurses,” Sue Ellen says. This was long before South Sudan became a country.
“I loved the work, the contacts I was making, and was thrilled, in my own small way to be making a difference in the world.
“Then I was off to Freetown, in Sierra Leone, from 2001 – 2002 working with the ICRC again. I worked on rehabilitating the operating theatre after it was decimated in the 1999 rebel attacks.”
Back in Australia, Sue Ellen commenced a Masters of Public Health (MPH) at James Cook University where she met Christopher Cliffe, then Nursing Director for Top End Remote Health in the NT, now our CEO, who invited her to apply for the remote nursing orientation program.
“I had no idea what I was getting into,” she says. “ I just knew that change was in order.”
Sue Ellen moved to Maningrida in 2005 where she spent seven years, continuing to hone her RAN skills. “I learned all my remote skills from my mentor, Michael Jenkins, who happens to be my current first reporting officer,” she says. “From there it was casual work for a few years working remote regions in Tasmania, Torres Strait and the Cape, Western Australia and a few stints in the Cocos-Keeling Islands.”
Then came the call out for nurses to work in the Ebola epidemic in mid-2014.
“Yes, I wanted to go and I thought my knowledge of infection control, viral haemorrhagic diseases would be useful.” (Sue Ellen had Lassa Fever in her previous trip to Sierra Leone, and studied this fascinating disease whilst doing her Masters.)
With that previous mission to Sierra Leone under her belt, Sue Ellen says she knew the struggle ahead would be long and devastating. “I wanted to help, and at that time no one was really putting up their hands to go,” she points out.
CRANAplus members will recall our conference in 2014 when Sue Ellen, on her return from her humanitarian mission to Sierra Leone, spoke via video about her work with patients in the Kenema Ebola Treatment centre.
After 25 years in Australia, Sue Ellen saw an ad in the CRANAplus magazine for a job in New York. “I was ready to live and work closer to home and I knew that was the job I wanted,” she says.
“My role as a Professional Nursing Officer for the United Nations began in November 2016. We work to prepare people for travel to 192 countries: which vaccinations are needed, what outbreaks are currently happening, how best to take care of their health while away. We are an occupational health clinic, involved in doing various assessments including ergonomic and environmental assessments, health promotion, and keeping people safe while traveling is a big part of this profession. We also are on emergency stand-by for any critical health incidents and are currently redoing our emergency room so utilizing my skills from remote health as well. I am preparing monthly educational sessions for the staff, and my work as a facilitator on the Remote Emergency care courses has been invaluable.”
Sue Ellen has commenced French lessons twice a week, and has taken a couple of courses on management skills, one of them being competency based interview skills.
“I travelled to Haiti this year to take part in a health risk analysis trip. It was wonderful to be back in the field again,” she says.
But it’s not all work. Sue Ellen reports she has also experienced Broadway shows, comedy clubs, Yankees games, jazz bars, hidden speakeasies, fabulous wine bars, organic farmers markets, retro diners and famous restaurants like the Russian Tea Room and Grand Central oyster bar and Katz’s Deli (I’ll have what she’s having).
“I have also been lucky enough to see Ricky Gervais, Louis CK, Jerry Seinfeld, Stephen Colbert, and Barbra Streisand live,” she says.
“I ❤️ New York.”