Up and Up: Faye’s path to leadership at Miwatj

When 34-year-old Faye Alvoen started work in aged care in Port Douglas in 1995, she had no idea it would set her on a career trajectory that would lead her to become Team Leader at our Gunyangara Clinic. Faye’s story shows us it’s never too late to discover a passion and do the hard yards in reaching our potential. We’re delighted to share Faye’s story.

Early days

Faye left school in year 10 and spent the first half of her working life as a waitress, bartender and domestic cleaner in her hometown of Mossman, as well as in Mackay and Port Douglas. In 1995, Faye was ready for her next move. When an opportunity presented itself in aged care, she tentatively stepped up.

“At first, it was just a job. I wasn’t sure I could handle it – I never had grandparents and I didn’t grow up with elderly people. But I fell in love with it… the stories the older people shared, knowing I could really help them; making them feel important again… it made me feel good,” she reflects.

From a job to a vocation

Having discovered her passion, Faye spent six years as a carer and completed a Certificate 3 in Aged Care.

In 2001, Faye joined the Goobidi-Bamanga Housing Cooperation as Coordinator of HACC (Home and Community Care), a program supporting elderly members of the Indigenous community. Over three years, Faye breathed life into the program. She worked hard to strengthen the services which involved a range of services such as teaching staff and residents how to shop for healthy food, assisting clients to go to the bank, doctors or pharmacy or organising shopping, family visits and even fishing day trips. Faye also coordinated a bus service for participants to attend their dialysis appointments in Cairns. By the time she left in 2003, the number of people receiving services had increased from 25 to 60.

“The HACC services were run down when I took over and only a handful of people were using the services. I put my own time into it – I worked with the hospital RN to ensure all our clients were eligible for HACC services. I took them on outings to see family and friends. I had a real passion. During NAIDOC week, we would meet up with the Wujal Wujal families and we’d spend the day at the beach. Even the residents without families came for an outing. It was wonderful.”

In 2004, it was time for a change. Faye began working at the local hospital, running eight beds in the aged care ward. Her supervisor must have noticed her natural affinity for healthcare because she encouraged Faye to study Enrolled Nursing (EN) at TAFE. For the next ten years, Faye worked as an EEN in the emergency, acute care and aged care units at the Mossman hospital.

Discovering East Arnhem Land

In 2011, Faye took a holiday to North East Arnhem Land to visit her husband in Gove – and there was no looking back.

“I immediately had an affinity with the place – it was so much like home in Mossman, by the sea. I decided to stay, and I began working in a motel. It was a relaxing lifestyle. But after a few months, I was craving something more.”

Looking to be involved in community work once again, Faye joined the ‘One Disease’ public health education program in East Arnhem and worked under Dr Buddi from Miwatj.

“We went fishing and hunting to connect with people and teach them about healthy lifestyle habits. It was a beautiful gateway into the community. We talked about our different nations, cultures and languages. When it was my birthday, one of the Miwatj drivers threw a party for me at their place with a cake and everything! I felt so loved.”

Faye decided to apply for a scholarship to study Registered Nursing – and she was ecstatic when her application was granted.

“When I told Dr Buddi I’d won the scholarship, he said he would support me to complete my studies. I was so grateful. But going to university at the age of 50 nearly killed me!” Faye laughs.

For the next two and a half years, she studied while working on the One Disease program, banking holiday leave to attend exams and go on placement in Geelong each semester. As she neared graduation, the One Disease program was also coming to a close.

“I applied to do my grad year everywhere. I didn’t hear back, and I was starting to panic. Miwatj was the only organisation that got back to me. I was accepted into the program on the 8th of December, 2014. It was a huge moment for me. I was over the moon.”

Faye wanted to start as a graduate (RN) nurse in the hope of being supported by doctors and nurses in her first year.

“As a graduate nurse, I realised that I had found what I loved; listening, connecting, caring, and educating. As an Indigenous woman, I love sharing stories from my mother’s side… It’s been awesome.”

Miwatj: From Graduate Nurse to Team Leader

After three years as an all-round nurse with Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation, Faye was asked if she would step up as Team Leader. It was an opportunity she grabbed with both hands.

“I said yes. 110%. I would do it. With the organisational skills I’d accumulated earlier in life in aged care and being a HACC-coordinator, I knew I could do it. It was hard at first, but I’ve been able to teach myself. Now, I feel in control.”

As we near the end of our conversation and reflect on all Faye has accomplished throughout her life, we ask her if she feels proud of what she’s achieved.

“I think so. I’ve never been without work. I’ve got married, had kids and I continue to work. Each day I feel I achieve something. Some days, you may save somebody’s life. And when you hear that news, it’s such a good feeling.”

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