Mental health conference first of its kind

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Spring 2-11-2011

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame, Sydney Campus

Publication Place



Nursing students in their final semester of study have participated in “Stepping Out”, a student-led mental health conference that’s the first of its kind at The University of Notre Dame Australia’s Sydney School of Nursing.

Associate Professor Bill Goodin and Associate Professor Bethne Hart decided to incorporate the conference into the assessment schedule for nursing students undertaking the Mental Health major.

“We agreed that a student-led conference would be a fine way for students to showcase their learning and celebrate their forthcoming graduate status,” said Associate Professor Bethne Hart.

“The full-day program saw 20 students present at the conference and all of these students identified Mental Health Nursing as their intended career pathway.”

The students each conducted a ten-minute presentation on a topic of their choice that centred around the theme of the conference, “The transition from scholarship to mental health nursing practice”. The topics chosen were diverse, from “The art of madness: participation in the creative arts gives expression to the inner-self and enhances recovery,” by Zachary McLoughlan to “To be or not to be a mental health nurse? That is the question,” by Renata Pinto.

Dr Tracey Thornley, Dean of the School of Nursing, awarded prizes to the most outstanding presenters, with first place going to Jessica Hayes for her presentation, “Connecting the dots: Depression in palliative care”. Second place was awarded to Justin Coote for “Stepping out with awareness: Discovering the challenges of being a nurse with a history of mental illness,” while Nyssa Malouf took third prize for, “Exploring a consumer’s experience of involuntary admission. Can this experience impact negatively on a consumer’s recovery?”

Dr Thornley said all of the presentations were of an incredibly high standard, but the work of the prizewinners stood out for its well-researched content and the particular way in which the human aspect of care was conveyed by all students.

“I was incredibly impressed by the outstanding contribution these presentations made to the mental health nursing and ultimately our profession,” Dr Thornley said.

Associate Professor Hart said the Stepping Out Conference is congruent with the School of Nursing’s approach to education in its promotion of student-led learning and experiential-based learning.

“It is also important to stress to students that academics in mental health nursing must highlight their work and inform their colleagues regarding the emerging areas of specialised practice, theory, therapy and research,” Associate Professor Hart said.

Students who presented at the Conference were both excited and anxious in anticipation of their own performance. Student presenter and winner of the Dean’s top award, Jessica Hayes, said the event gave her and her peers a valuable increased sense of competence and it strengthened their identity as mental health nurses.

“The Stepping Out Conference was an amazing experience personally and professionally,” Ms Hayes said.

“It allowed me to present a topic that I had researched heavily and one that is close to my heart to an academic board and my fellow peers. I would like to undertake further studies so it was a great experience to understand what presenting a conference paper is really like.”

Following overwhelmingly positive feedback from staff and students, the “Stepping Out” Mental Health Conference will become a regular feature in the Mental Health Nursing course.

“Given this was a very successful ‘pilot’ program we will continue to plan and integrate the conference more strongly across curriculum, and promote the event more widely in the future,” said Associate Professor Hart.

For further information please contact: Communications Officer, Elizabeth Fenech

The University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney Campus

T: 02 8204 4407 E: elizabeth.fenech@nd.edu.au W: www.nd.edu.au/