40 years of reward and heartbreak for career nurse

Teresa Isaacs has dedicated her life to improving health outcomes for Aboriginal people.                Picture: Marcus Whisson        d438433
Teresa Isaacs has dedicated her life to improving health outcomes for Aboriginal people.                Picture: Marcus Whisson        d438433

IT is hard to pin down a time to chat to Aboriginal nurse Teresa Isaacs, who has committed the past 40 years to pursuing better health outcomes for Aboriginal people.

Up at dawn and not getting home until the sun has gone to bed, Mrs Isaacs is passionate about helping Aboriginal people understand, accept and access western health care services.

Her passion and selflessness has been rewarded, with the mother of two making the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

She was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in the general division.

“I am so thrilled and happy and I thank the people who have nominated me; I didn’t expect it,” Mrs Isaacs said.

Growing up in Broome, the 69-year-old began her nursing career when she was 16 years old at Broome Hospital.

But working as a missionary helper from 1967-69 at Saint Francis Xavier Mission in Wandering still sticks in her mind. She took on the ‘mother’ role, caring for boys aged five to 12 who had been taken away from their parents by the government.

“There must have been about 10 little ones; the poor darlings, I would put them to bed, then go back to my quarters and these kids were in a big dorm,” Mrs Isaacs said.

“Then I’d go in the morning and wake them up for school. I just wanted to help these children.”

In 1977, the Aboriginal interpreter took up a community-based position at Lockridge Community Health Centre.

She then started working as a clinical nurse with the Aboriginal Medical Service in 1979, which is now known as the Derbarl Yerrigan Health Service in East Perth and Midland.

As one of only two Aboriginal nurses working out of a car, she continued to take on community outreach, interpreter and cultural liaison responsibilities.

The Langford-based nurse has earned the respect of Aboriginal people from several communities and language groups, having worked for the Health Service for the past 36 years.

She is now at the Elizabeth Hansen Autumn Centre, which provides accommodation and support for critically ill Aboriginal patients from the Kimberley region who need renal dialysis.

Her career has been both rewarding and heartbreaking.

She hopes her progress will make a difference to future generations.

“When I see people get better and go home, I feel so happy,” she said.