Today we celebrate International Nurses Day on the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. At Centacare, nurses such as Karen Didenko play a crucial role in child protection, disability and drug and alcohol services. Amidst COVID-19, they have led the way with flexibility, skill, trust and compassion to keep clients and staff safe.

There are more than 20 million nurses around the world. Karen Didenko is one of them.

Karen joined Centacare six months ago as the only Registered Nurse in Centacare Disability Services.

She brings to the role more than a decade of community disability service experience, as an ever-present force for good in a sector whose faces inspire her daily.

“It’s more than a career,’’ Karen says.

“You can’t step into disability without a real passion for the people.

“If you have that passion, it’s a really rewarding way to spend your time and energy.’’

After working at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in various departments including a stint specialising in mental health, Karen switched her focus to community nursing.

In the disability sector, she found new ways to stretch herself in order to support those who often can’t verbalise how they’re feeling or what they need, yet can still communicate in volumes.

“The clients will draw on your heartstrings to a point because you really have to get to know them to know how they communicate,’’ she says.

“Once I get to know the participants, I’m yet to meet someone who hasn’t been able to tell me how they’re feeling, whether they can verbally speak or not.’’

Karen says community nursing demands a broad skill base and the ability to work largely autonomously, often with very little equipment, before drawing in other services as needed.

“You are reliant on experienced visual and tactile assessment skills, knowing the participant and listening carefully to the people who care for them every day,’’ she says.

“In a hospital, you can turn to the next person for instant advice. Whereas, in community nursing, if you need additional support, you have to make an appointment or phone call for a second opinion.’’

Karen points to the teams with whom she works across Centacare’s residential and respite sites in metropolitan and regional South Australia.

“The teams are dynamite; I’m a tool they can use in a well set-up service.

“The care that Centacare Disability Services provide and demonstrate on a daily basis is of a high quality. The staff are in-tune with the participants’ holistic wellbeing needs. I consider myself very privileged to be part of this team.

“The participants put a positive spin on the world, and they are able to put your own life into perspective. Their day-to-day challenges tend to be far greater than most peoples’ and, despite this, they are generally happy and able to thrive.’’

Karen recommends nursing for those who are passionate, motivated, have good assessment skills and are able to work alone or as part of a team.

“Nursing in the community with people who have disabilities is a very challenging and rewarding job.’’