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30 minutes with Helen McCullagh

 
What is the exact title of your role?
Clinical Nurse Consultant with the State Schools Nursing Service of Queensland Government’s Department of Education.
 
Where do you currently work & how long have you been working there?
The Department of Education first employed me in 2008 as a State Schools Registered Nurse based at Mackay District Special School. I became a Clinical Nurse Consultant in 2013 and I’m currently based Mackay Regional Office supporting schools and supervising a small but fabulous team of nurses based in various locations across Central, North and Far North Queensland. The State School Nursing Service’s purpose is supporting students with specialised health needs to access and participate fully in their education alongside their peers. I am
committed to improving epilepsy awareness, its impacts on learning and the safe management of seizures as a core part of the service role.
 
I am sure you have seen a great deal of change in epilepsy in the education sector. What do you think is the most exciting/important change and why?
I have been thrilled to see many school staff now embracing the opportunity to learn more about epilepsy and developing a positive culture across schools and school communities. School staff are accessing training not just about the essentials of managing a seizure event, but also to better understand and address the implications of epilepsy on learning. Teachers seek strategies to make adjustments that enhance learning opportunities and maximize student inclusion.
 
Many teaching staff are active in learning seizure management and the administration of rescue medications. We have varied the delivery of training to include face-to-face sessions and webinars to more remote areas to ensure support for all staff and students. Epilepsy Queensland
Inc is an important component of this training delivery and has traveled to regional areas to provide valuable support for educators in epilepsy and to share evidence based practice advice.
 
I am proud of the State Schools Nursing Service who deliver training to schools staff statewide, and are always very professional and enthusiastic in their delivery. In the last 6 months, over 1500 school staff have attended epilepsy awareness sessions delivered by State Schools Registered Nurses in just my regions alone. A teacher calmly andrespectfully managing a student having a seizure is a great role model for the students and the school community as this has a ripple effect for society and builds a better understanding and culture for bringing epilepsy out of the shadows now and into the future.
 
What do you feel the main challenges are for a person living with epilepsy in a regional area?
In the regions I support, it has to be local or improved access to medical specialists. Telehealth technology supports improved access to have appointments remotely, but I would like to see this platform used to provide professional learning for many health and professional staff that support the students and families more broadly. Telehealth offers a great advantage to reducing the costs and impacts on families who would previously have to travel for appointments to visit with paediatric neurology teams and other specialist support services.
 
Tell us about what you do for Purple Day and why you are so passionate about raising awareness and funds for epilepsy.
Since it started in 2008, Purple Day has always been a real thing in my family as two of my four children have a genetic epilepsy disorder. Working with children and their families and school communities has only increased my passion to raise awareness and funding. Funding is essential to maintain support and enable research. There are many equally passionate people in Mackay who have raised funds through a variety of activities including some great purple balls a few years ago, and school based activities such as encouraging school students and
staff to wear purple, produce purple crafts, and eat purple food for a gold coin donation. Social media is filled with purple, and with epilepsy information and stories. One of my daughters was a governess on a remote property near Birdsville and celebrated purple day with the two children and their poddy calves. We have been lucky that Mackay Regional Council turns the city’s fountain purple. In Mackay Regional Office, staff certainly know when it’s Purple Day with a very purple morning tea with best-dressed prizes. Life experiences are discussed and latest research and information is shared. Last year 30 purple bears, lambs and mammoths from the Epilepsy Queensland team found new homes with staff in our office. All this activity is key to starting ongoing conversations about epilepsy.
 
Where else have you worked in your life?
My first nursing job, while I was still at school in Townsville, was in a residential home for children with disabilities. When I left school I completed my nursing training in Brisbane, lived, worked there for eight years, and loved it. However, regional and remote areas is where my heart is. I have continued to work mainly in Central and North Queensland.
 
What do you love about your job?
Supporting children with health conditions to safely attend and be fully included at school is my purpose and this makes working for the State Schools Nursing Service one of the best nursing jobs ever. While I am no longer directly working with children and their families, I still know that the job I do contributes to this and makes a difference. It is great to see a child with a significant health issue or disability go to school camp for the first time. It is so rewarding to hear about a child go back to school safely and supported after their diagnosis (e.g. diabetes, epilepsy). It is good to hear a parent report that their child had a seizure at school and the staff managed it really well. It is wonderful to have feedback from a school principal saying that the staff knew what to do in a medical emergency because my team had been involved
in developing this competence. Illness impacts on learning, and good management at school enables children to engage to the best of their ability. I love hearing that the impact of our service has improved attendance or learning outcomes as well as the quality of life for a student.
The people that I work with are amazing and I love this about my job.
 
My role includes collaboration in the health and education sectors and I have met so many caring dedicated people. I travel across several Department facilities including Central Office, Regional Offices, schools and camp settings. I meet people in varied roles who all have a common goal of every child in every school succeeding. Staff may work in non-student related areas such as HR, ICT, finance or facilities but still all have this goal.
 
Where would you most like to travel?
I am so lucky that my job has taken me all over Queensland but I would love to spend more time travelling all around Australia. For overseas travel-Italy. I have been once already and hardly touched the surface of such a diverse, wonderful country. 
 
What is your favourite food?
Oh the list is endless! The only food I do not like is watermelon. 
 
Describe your most embarrassing moment? 
I was riding my bike home from work at the Mater Mackay hospital around school pick up time and was stopped at a busy corner. While getting back on the bike, I somehow managed to insert the bike seat into my pocket and fell over spectacularly, but without injury, in front of many cars stopped at the lights.
 
What/who is your favourite book/author?
The Happy Prisoner by Monica Dickens
 
Who would you like to meet?
Kurt Fearnley –what a fabulous athlete, spokesperson and human being. His comments after the Commonwealth Games were positive, humble and inspiring. I have just returned from eight absolutely wonderful days attending sporting and festival events. What a brilliant few weeks. I love the way para-sports were integrated. Accessibility is the issue-not disability, and this was well displayed by the organization of transport, volunteers, spectators as well as the more visual paraevents. An example of this is the text I received on the day prior to each event to check if I needed a wheelchair accessible bus to get to the venue from my booked parking spot.
 
What genres of music do you like listening to/favourite song?
Every single type of music for different times and moods from classical to jazz to country and rap. I have recently been to the Big Red Bash -rocking the desert and the Wintermoon Festival- folk music in a tropical rainforest setting and have had a fabulous time. I am trying to learn the “floss” dance to be part of a flashmob at an 18th birthday party. I am appalling at it! I have no musical talent at all but great enthusiasm.
 
Do you have any interesting hobbies you would like to tell us about?
I love sleeping under the stars-especially on the roof rack of our car. 
 
What do you feel would greatly improve epilepsy care currently in regional Queensland?
It would be great to have more professional development about epilepsy for health professionals in regional areas. The sessions delivered throughout the state by QPEN in the past were really beneficial. Improving the epilepsy knowledge of health professionals at every level from student doctors and nurses onwards and how to diagnose and treat it would be great for all patients and families. The Thinking Outside the Box Epilepsy Symposium is always excellent. Listening to Dr Sasha Dionisio last year talk about Stereo EEG and how it can allow patients with focal epilepsy and normal imaging to have epilepsy surgery done was inspiring. It would be great if regional areas could perhaps access sessions such as this remotely via videoconference in the future. Innovations, improved medications and treatment, as well as the awareness of epilepsy by all of society will continue to improve the quality of life of people living with epilepsy.