NHILL'S Mandy Stephan wants to use her Australia Day honour as a platform to advocate for better access to health services in rural areas.
On Tuesday, Mrs Stephan received and Order of Australia Medal for her services to nursing, particularly to child and maternal health.
"I felt honored, but it was a difficult decision to accept this," she said.
"I felt as though there are many other people that are also worthy of this award as well - other nurses."
For many new families, Mrs Stephan is one of the first people they will meet after their child is born as a Maternal and Child Health nurse with the West Wimmera Health Service and Department of Education.
"I am just one of many nurses within the region; the Maternal and Child Health service has been around for over 100 years. It's a respected service.
"So I thought, I'll accept it because we need a voice for the Wimmera-Southern Mallee for health for education services.
"If we don't have strong health and educational services in the community, the community will suffer.
"Yes, agriculture is essential, small businesses are important, but you've got to have the foundations of a community, and that's good health and good education services.
"That's why I thought I would accept this award as an honour, but that's hard because most nurses aren't self-promotional.
"But I don't see this as self-promotional; it's about promoting the community that you live in. That's part of being a health professional and working with your community."
Mrs Stephan said midwives are passionate people because that's the nature of the job.
"Being a child and maternal health nurse is a holistic view of community nursing. If we get that right, then our community will be strong.
"I think the other thing is the joint partnership of maternal and child health with educational services (kindergarten).
"We have three-year-old kindergarten, childcare and playgroups, whereas years ago, there were none of those services. We've extended a lot over time to support families because if families feel safe in their community, they will stay. If we don't have a service, we don't have community.
"It's about the availability of maternal and child health or availability of any health service or educational service. It's got to be seen, and it's got to be in the community that you live in.
"It used to be about access, but if you can travel three hours to see somebody - is that really access? It should be about availability - it the service locally placed in your community?
"You see small country towns where there's no service - it's quite sad. If you had service there, or place, they feel worthwhile, they feel important; people feel like they're valued as part of the member of the community."
Born and raised in Kaniva, Mrs Stephan moved to Box Hill in 1978 to pursue a nursing career, following in her mother's footsteps.
If we don't have strong health and educational services in the community, the community will suffer.
She rounded out her studies in midwifery at the Royal Women's Hospital in Parkville, before moving back to the region.
"I always wanted to come back and work in the country and a position opened up in Nhill Maternity Hospital," she said.
"I learned a lot from working in a rural community. We had a great team of nurses and three GPs."
After meeting her now-husband Gus, Mrs Stephan upskilled in 1988 to become a Child and Maternal Health nurse, working for the then-Lowan Shire, which later became the Hindmarsh Shire.
"The position evolved over time. We do a lot of home visits now, as well as phone calls," she said.
"Telehealth is a big part of our job now, because many women are discharged early. In the old days, you might stay in the hospital five, maybe seven days, whereas now you can be discharged as early as four hours after the birth."
After more than 40 years as a nurse, Mrs Stephan said it is easy to maintain her job passion.
"Every family is different and every day is different. You may start off with a day that is planned, and then all of a sudden, something may happen. You have to change - it's ever evolving. That's probably why I enjoy it."
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