Benita Ramage was 42 when she radically changed direction in life and started her nursing degree, fulfilling a lifelong dream to work as a nurse.
Ten years later, she has just completed her postgraduate Master of Clinical Nursing (Anaesthetics and Recovery) through the University of Tasmania, which has already helped her progress further in her career as a registered nurse at the Sydney Adventist Hospital.
Not long after making the decision to become a nurse a decade ago, Benita also took up fencing again, a sport she hadn’t played since high school.
And these days she enjoys those two passions side-by-side, representing the University of Tasmania in fencing, and lining up fencing comps with nursing conferences interstate and overseas in order to combine the two.
“I competed in the UniSport Nationals this year representing UTAS and it felt so good. I’d basically been denied going to uni from younger age, so I felt young again to be representing UTAS, it meant a lot to me.”
Benita, from Sydney, said she wanted to be a nurse or physiotherapist ever since she was a teenager but her mother steered her into a career as a legal secretary instead.
“I just thought that was going to be my path,” Benita said. “My grandfather was a lawyer, mum was a legal secretary. I even studied a year of law at the University of Sydney but then I realised it wasn’t for me.”
In 2007, at the age of 37, Benita was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a discovery that took a significant toll on her mental health.
Later, as a full-time mum of three, Benita studied a degree in naturopathy on her weekends as a way of entering the health sector she had always felt so drawn to.
Having rediscovered her confidence, she enrolled in a Bachelor of Nursing at the University of Western Sydney in 2012. Her previous qualifications allowed her to complete the first year in a six-week summer school, and she graduated in 2014, finally a qualified nurse.
The following year, she started fencing again for the first time since she was a teenager, seeing it as another part of her personal reinvention.
“Since my MS diagnosis I was making a point of trying to keep fit, I wanted to make sure my body knows the MS won’t win over what I want my body to do.”
Always looking for new ways to improve herself, Benita is constantly on the lookout for professional development conferences and tries to line them up with nearby fencing competitions wherever possible.
It was at one of these conferences, at Cancun in Mexico, that Benita bumped into a Tasmanian academic who suggested she study her Master’s degree at the University of Tasmania.
“She said other unis offered the course but the University of Tasmania provided the best subjects and gave better outcomes,” Benita said.
“Living in Sydney, there were a couple of unis that offered a Master’s degree in nursing but UTAS gave a broader spectrum of subjects and knowledge. And because I was working full time, it was really helpful being able to study it entirely online.”
Benita said completing her Master of Clinical Nursing (Anaesthetic and Recovery) not only gave her vital new skills and knowledge but improved her writing abilities and enabled her to propose and implement vital changes to practices in her workplace.
And she relished the opportunity to merge her studies and her fencing by representing the University of Tasmania in the foil and epee events at this year’s UniSport Nationals in Western Australia.
“Everyone was so inclusive, and I wasn’t just the oldie on the strip,” she laughed. “The UTAS team was amazing, we all watched each other compete in the various sports and supported each other.”
Benita said she was already contemplating returning to study her PhD, with a topic inspired by her own experiences as a mature-age student,
“I’m still a relatively new nurse, but I’m also mature new nurse, and other nurses my age have 20 years more experience than me.
“So I’m thinking of that as a PhD topic, looking at how mature nurses are expected to have knowledge to match younger nurses, and how to help mature-age nurses fit in better, get that knowledge faster and fit in as much as a 20-year experienced nurse.”
Fun fact: The median salary for our students one year out from an undergraduate nursing degree is $65,600. But with a postgraduate nursing course this jumps to $81,800, which is more than the national median of $78,600.
If you want to level-up your nursing career, take a look at our postgraduate study options.