The Sister’s enduring legacy

Occupational therapist Niamh Lane started working at St Vincent’s in March this year, 5 months after arriving in Australia from Ireland.

Niamh came to Australia to advance her career, and while job hunting in Melbourne, St Vincent’s caught her eye, giving her the chance to continue a connection to the Sisters of Charity that goes back three generations of her family.

“Coming to St Vincent’s for the first time for the interview, I felt at home straight away,” Niamh says

“And it just seemed like the right fit for me.”

Niamh’s Great Grandaunt was a Sister of Charity in Ireland who worked as a nurse at St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin for decades.

“She was a visionary and a constant advocate for the improvement of the provision of health care to the poor and vulnerable,” she says.

Sister Mary Canisius
Niamh’s Great Grandaunt Sister Mary Canisius O’Keeffe

Niamh was 8 when her Great Grandaunt, Sister Mary Canisius O’Keeffe, passed away in 2000 at the age of 98, and she grew up inspired by her work.

Given this historical family connection to St Vincent’s, Niamh wasn’t sure whether to be surprised when she found herself at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne.

“It feels a bit surreal that it happened that way,” she says.

But it is Niamh’s experience working in occupational therapy at the Marymount Hospice in Cork, South-West Ireland, which led her to Australia.  And yes, the hospice was founded by the Sisters of Charity as well.

While her Great Grandaunt worked at the hospice for years, both Niamh’s grandfather and father were also on the hospice’s board making contributions to its development.

After completing her degree, Niamh became the first occupational therapist at the hospice.

“The ethos of the hospice was providing holistic patient-centred care to palliative patients, and it was something that I was really keen to try and provide,” she says.

But after working there for 9 months in a voluntary capacity, funding wasn’t available to keep the occupational therapy program going.

“Australia is a progressive country in terms of OT research and literature, and it is a recognised profession.  Ireland is not quite on par with that yet,” she says.

“There is a great OT department here at St Vincent’s with a hugely experienced staff.  It’s lovely working in this environment with people who value our profession and also value the patients we are working with.”

Niamh at work on St Vincent’s medical ward

Niamh’s passion for occupational therapy is unmistakable and she is proud of the unique role occupational therapists play in helping to make patients as independent as they can be.

“A huge team effort goes into getting somebody home from hospital – you have the medical team, the nursing team, speech pathology, physio and so on looking at the patient from their respective point of view.  But I think the one particular asset of occupational therapists is that we look at the person as a whole and all of their activities,” she says.

“When you can advocate for the patient in that way and when you make sure that they are able to go back to their daily life, then it is hugely fulfilling.”

One thought on “The Sister’s enduring legacy

  1. A truly great story Niamh, thank you for sharing it with us. Great to have that continued connection with the Sisters of charity.


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