13 October 2022

Following my nose – a nurse’s journey into entrepreneurship

Comment Hospital Start Ups

When I started nursing in 2010, I knew I’d made the right career choice. I was passionate about healthcare, and I enjoyed the challenges and fast-paced environment and loved helping people in their time of need.  

However, after a few years of nursing, I started to feel doubt creeping in. Suddenly I wasn’t so sure that working in healthcare was for me.  

Shift work was slowly killing me. I was no longer confident in my skills, I found myself having difficulty sleeping, I wasn’t enjoying my time with my family and friends, and I felt like I’d lost my passion for people and my work. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was beginning to experience burnout.  

Fast forward another two years, and I was no longer living on the edge of burnout; I was a permanent resident. After many sleepless nights I decided the best decision was to pack up my bags and leave the job I’d once loved.  

This wasn’t a short vacation away from nursing and healthcare either. This was a complete ‘get me out of here’ move. I decided to become a dairy farmer. No backup plan, just milking cows and a search for a sense of purpose and direction. 

At the time, my colleagues struggled to understand why I was leaving a promising intensive care nursing career to get back to the land, and neither did I. But all I knew was that I needed out.  

After I left, I began to wonder whether I’d truly lost my passion for nursing or whether I just didn’t understand what I was getting myself into fully. Or did I just lack the resources and tools needed to manage the complexities, pressures, and demands of working on the frontline of healthcare? After all, I wasn’t the only nurse I knew who’d ended up experiencing significant burnout.  

Although I returned to nursing, I was actively looking for a way to make a more significant impact and reduce my chances of having to leave once again. Unknowingly, this is where my innovation journey started. I was a few years away from product development, though these years of soul-searching discovery were the most crucial component of my entrepreneurial journey.  

I wanted to find a way to prevent other health professionals from going through burnout as I had. I wanted to build the resources I once needed, help nurses gain perspective over their challenges, support them to perform in their job, help them enjoy their life, and connect with the people who matter most at work and home. I wanted them to feel fulfilled in all areas of their life, so they didn’t have to leave as I did.   

Thus, the concept behind the Fwards platform and my adventure as an entrepreneur began.  

Importantly, I still remember these soul-searching days like it was yesterday. They continue to underpin my drive as I face each challenge of digital health and innovation in healthcare. Innovation isn’t a linear process, and when you undertake a journey of innovation within the Australian healthcare system, your work is cut out for you.  

As cliché as it sounds, working as a nurse and entrepreneur became much more plausible when I started to understand my ‘why’. When I discovered the factors and reasons behind my burnout experience, I was able to manage its effects and developed solutions to also help others.  

This part of my business journey is crucial to the direction of Fwards and the decisions I make as a founder. Once I began to unpack the motivations and drivers influencing my reactions and behaviours, making informed decisions on the best next step in the Fwards journey became second nature.  

This experience of burnout and recovery motivates me and the Fwards business to help prevent others from going through a similar journey. I often wonder if I would have left nursing if it wasn’t for this experience, and unfortunately, I’ll never know.  

I share my journey as I learn to appreciate and reflect on the importance of story, experience and mission in making business decisions. If we want to provide a platform for widespread change across healthcare, embracing and living our mission is the first step in creating sustainable healthcare. It makes decisions much easier. 

Athol Hann is the founder of Fwards.  

Fwards will be at Wild Health’s summit next week, No greater time to align our digital health strategy with our health reform agenda. There are still a handful of tickets left, or you can now register for the online livestream or for post-event content. We hope to see you there.