Recovery Camp team member announced Nurse of Year

Christopher Patterson honoured to be recognised by national body

Christopher Patterson’s career as a mental health nurse has led to life-changing – and life-saving results.

It’s a career which the Lecturer in Nursing at UOW loves and for which he seeks no special rewards. However, his peers in the Australian College of Nursing believe his achievements deserve him to be singled out as Nurse of the Year.

Christopher defeated five other finalists in the Nurse/Midwife of the Year Award. The category was sponsored by the Australian College of Nursing. He was announced the winner at the recent Australian Healthcare Week awards held in Sydney.

Christopher has witnessed first-hand over the past six years the invaluable role an immersive therapeutic bush camp plays in helping people with mental illness.

The mental health nurse is an integral team member of UOW’s Recovery Camp. Recovery Camp brings together staff and students from diverse fields including nursing, psychology, dietetics and exercise physiology.

Recently becoming a social enterprise based out of iAccelerate, Recovery Camp is person-centred and recovery-focused. It invites individuals with a lived experience of mental illness to participate in a five-day therapeutic recreation camp in the Australian bush and the week is shared with health students doing their professional workplace experience.

Together, health students, health professionals and people with lived experience of mental illness do camp activities, including a giant swing, high ropes course, rock climbing, a flying fox, bush dancing, art and craft, and trivia.

Christopher said students were provided with the opportunity to learn directly from people with lived experience about mental illness and about mental health recovery – in ways they couldn’t from textbooks or lectures.

“It really challenges any stigmatising views they may have,” Christopher said.

Recovery Camp has to date provided more than 50,000 hours of clinical placement to health students from universities across Australia. It has also taken more than 550 people with mental illness.

Christopher said there were many individual stories of transformation from the camp – be they from students, health professionals or people with lived experience.

One person who remains clearly in Christopher’s memory is Kaylene, a Dapto grandmother, who attended the first camp in 2013 and has attended most since that time.

Kaylene, who has for more than 30 years lived with bi-polar and depression, has openly declared that if it wasn’t for the camp she would most likely have taken her own life.

She went through many years of misdiagnosis but she is now able to manage her condition through medication and exercise.

Christopher started work in mental health in 2005 working locally in the acute adult inpatient units at Shellharbour Hospital and then later at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney.

He started teaching at UOW in 2012, teaching across the curriculum, and into the mental health nursing subjects. Since 2014 Christopher has been delivering health first aid courses to health students of UOW as well as members of the community including Kiama Surf Life Saving Club and WEA Illawarra.

“It is an incredible honour to receive this award – and a great surprise. Nurses don’t do what we do for awards, but it is really an honour to be recognised by my peers.

“I love nursing and love working in mental health. I am lucky to have a role where I can educate future nurses, and through Recovery Camp, meet and work with people with lived experience of mental illness,” Christopher said.

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