As a child, Lisa Fitzpatrick dreamed of emulating famous actress Julie Andrews on stage and screen.
Her calling instead came in nursing, a profession which ran in the family with several of her aunts enjoying longtime careers in the field.
“I thought there was a great capacity to make a change and help people at their most vulnerable time,” Fitzpatrick says.
The Moonee Ponds resident grew up in country Victoria and completed her schooling in Ballarat before starting nursing training at the former Prince Henry’s Hospital in Melbourne.
Fitzpatrick has worked across the nursing sector. She ended her clinical nursing career while working in diabetes education to forge a path with the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF).
She credits her support of the 1986 Victorian nurses’ strike while working at Prince Henry’s with sparking her union interest. “I think I got the ANF disease during that period of time and I increasingly became more active at my workplace,” she says.
Fitzpatrick joined the union as an employee in 1997 and worked her way up to state secretary.
“It was a hard decision,” she says when asked about letting nursing go.
“For me, nursing was an extremely rewarding career. I had wonderful patients. Every nurse who comes to work here at the ANF at some stage misses clinical nursing.”
Fitzpatrick describes her role as making the health system a better place for nurses and midwives to work. “Everything we do here is for the betterment of patients and clients.
“In some ways I have left the bedside, but I have an extraordinary opportunity to influence the broader system and hopefully make that better for the community.”
Her position was placed in the spotlight during the ANMF’s recent pay dispute with the state government.
The standoff began in June, 2011, and was settled nine months later, with nurses achieving pay increases of 13-21 per cent across the sector.
“Exhilarating. And just a huge relief,” Fitzpatrick recalls feeling after the dispute ended. “It was a battle that nurses and midwives had to win, but it took us a very long time to get over the line.”
The campaign at one point involved bed closures and 33 rallies across the state within a three-week period.
Still, nothing changed until Maribyrnong MP and then minister for employment and workplace relations
Bill Shorten stepped in to help resolve the dispute in
February last year.
“We were very indebted to Bill that he took it upon himself to help us out, roll his sleeves up and make doors open for us in the Premier’s department.”
Fitzpatrick has been state secretary for 12 years and says it has been a challenge being the face of 68,000 disgruntled members.
“Sometimes comments made about me personally during the campaign aren’t flattering, so I just have to stay focused. I don’t allow myself to get sidetracked or caught up in the media hype,” she says.
“I’ve been a patient as well as a nurse and I think that’s really important. To be able to step back and be that patient, be that vulnerable person in the bed, and have that wonderful nursing care – that can give you the additional strength and perspective you need in fighting for our health system.”
Fitzpatrick says the ANMF is committed to further improving pay conditions for nurses, creating new jobs, and retaining quality staff for the long-term.
“I think the community respects the profession. I do think governments totally undervalue the work,” she laments.
“A lot of people want to diminish the role and the numbers of nurses and midwives, whereas we want to keep fighting to make sure that the community, when they go to hospitals ... it’s not a lottery.”