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Chief Health Officer

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic required so much of all of us, but the true frontline was unquestionably where direct care was provided to those in need… It’s hard to overstate just how critical that work has been.

This book makes for difficult reading, but it is essential reading. One can’t be unaffected in reflecting on the extraordinary circumstances that Victoria’s nurses and midwives endured through this pandemic. The stories in this book are at once haunting and inspirational. Haunting because the struggles, the pain, the loss and grief, the fear and anxiety are all too real and still too close. Yet inspirational because one cannot help but see the deep commitment to care, the dedication in the face of overwhelming circumstances, and the profoundly human responses to the devastating events that played out over months and then years.

Of course, no single experience of a crisis is the same as any other; we each come to it with our unique strengths and vulnerabilities, our personal histories, and our ways of seeing and dealing with it. But what is clear in these stories is a universal sense of facing the challenges head on, with compassion, determination, ingenuity and professionalism. The response to the COVID-19 pandemic required so much of all of us, but the true frontline was unquestionably where direct care was provided to those in need. On hospital wards, in emergency departments, in intensive care and high dependency units, in clinics, in aged and disability care, and in innumerable other settings.

It’s hard to overstate just how critical that work has been. It not only saved so many lives and supported so many families, friends and loved ones, but it was crucial in managing the risk of transmission to the broader community. That herculean effort supported the defining success of the Victorian response to COVID-19—that almost everyone had an opportunity to be vaccinated before widespread transmission occurred.

Early 2020 was a time of genuine fear. Fear of the unknown and fear in watching incredible events play out in Asia, Europe and then North America. To see patients in Italy denied intensive care beds and then wonder what it meant for Victoria in coming weeks was on everyone’s minds.

We can never know exactly how the pandemic might have played out if we hadn’t achieved such high vaccination coverage in a low-transmission period, but many international jurisdictions have suffered an incalculable loss compared to Australia. No jurisdiction worked harder than Victoria in avoiding such a tragedy. We have certainly saved many, many thousands of lives and I hope that incredible accomplishment stays with all our nurses and midwives who were so instrumental in achieving it.

It’s convenient to imagine that nurses and midwives only had to face extraordinary clinical challenges, but the truth is that there were risks and fears and responsibilities in all facets of their lives. They worked in 2020 and 2021 while vaccines were not yet available, risking severe illness or worse. They worried about bringing COVID-19 home to their families or housemates. They sacrificed the company and support at home and lived alone or with clinical colleagues in order to protect others. All this while also being subject to the public health orders put in place to protect everyone. Just when the demands in hospital were greatest and families were rightly needing to see their loved ones, nurses and midwives needed to play a role to protect everyone in hospital. It must have been a time of such anguish for staff and families alike.

In crisis there is, of course, also hope, triumph and growth. It’s so heartening to read in these reflections the way that excellent leadership emerged to respond to the magnitude of the task ahead. Not just leadership in the classic sense, but quiet, behind-the-scenes leadership to support others, hold teams together, and manage the emotional and psychological toll that was all too apparent. Personal and professional growth is written into these stories in ways we might not have imagined. It’s a legacy we must continue to nurture.

In public health, decisions must sometimes be made for whole populations in order to prevent catastrophic consequences. It’s clear that behind every critical decision are millions of people each with a human story. Nurses and midwives were at the heart of many of those stories, some of which are captured in detail here. I hope they help to inform policy and practice in future. But I truly hope that they stand as a testament to the incredible work that nurses and midwives did through this pandemic, and which they continue to do every day. I am humbled to read these personal reflections and remain forever grateful for the role our nurses and midwives played.


State Secretary
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation
(Victorian Branch)

Glenn Taylor

Chief Executive Officer
Nursing and Midwifery Health Program Victoria