When Catie Brown celebrated her graduation from the University of Wollongong (UOW) last week, it was a significant moment in more ways than one.
The UOW Batemans Bay graduate, who took part in the ceremony on Tuesday, 24th January, 2023 at Batemans Bay’s Pavilion, was thrilled to be finally able to celebrate the end of her degree, a journey that was full of personal hardship. But it also marked another chapter in her family’s long relationship with the University.
Joined by her mother, Jill, her fiancé, Luke, and her grandmother, Helen, Catie received her Bachelor of Nursing, alongside 32 other graduates from the regional campus. Without the efforts of her great-grandfather, it was a moment that might never have occurred.
Dr David Parry, Catie’s great-grandfather, was the foundation chair of the Wollongong University College Council, and with the formation of the University of Wollongong in 1975, he became Chair of the First University Council. Throughout his time at UOW, Dr Parry held the position of Deputy Chancellor and was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science in 1976.
Catie, who was very close to her great-grandfather, said the family had always been aware of the role he had played in the formation of UOW and that influenced her decision to attend the Batemans Bay Campus.
“It’s nice to know that my great-grandfather made this opportunity possible for me,” Catie said. “If he didn’t help to get UOW off the ground, I wouldn’t be graduating from this university. He would be so proud of me.”
Dr David Parry, in the centre of the front row, with the members of the Wollongong College Interim Council in 1974. Photo: Supplied
While Catie had originally planned on attending the Wollongong Campus, she ultimately chose to stay closer to her Malua Bay home. It was a decision that coincided with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Having the resources of UOW Batemans Bay just ten minutes down the road, and the support of the staff and fellow students, made all the difference for Catie’s university experience.
“You really get to know everyone in your class. The whole degree was hard but with a small group in nursing, we stuck through it together and supported each other,” Catie said.
Nursing was an area that came naturally to her. She loved the content of her course and the person-centred nature of patient care. But it wasn’t always her first choice.
“I watched my Dad go in and out of hospital when I was younger, and my grandmother go in and out of hospital, and I used to ask the nurses lots of questions. I was always so fascinated by how the body works, by how people can be sick and how to treat it. But I was totally disgusted by blood. When my dad would tell me I would be a nurse, I would say ‘no way!’,” Catie said.
“Then when I was about 15, I decided that I could be a nurse and that I would be good at it. In my degree, I always took a holistic approach. It’s not just about the knowledge of nursing, but about caring for the patients.”
However, immediately following her final placement, Catie was diagnosed with cancer. In hindsight, she said she was working through immense pain, but managed to take it one day at a time. The news placed Catie on the other side of the nursing-patient dynamic.
“It’s funny how it all played out,” she said. “I finished my placement and I was really unwell and then I was diagnosed. I got through my whole degree, I was just about to finish and be a nurse, and then I was the one in the bed.”
Catie with UOW Vice-Chancellor Professor Patricia Davidson during the graduation ceremony at Batemans Bay. PHOTO BY Paul Jones
Catie put her nursing skills to use during her treatment. She laughs that she would often make the bed, to save the nurses the trouble, and her medical knowledge enabled her to understand what she was going through.
“I know how hard the nurses work, so I wanted to do anything I could to make their job easier,” Catie said.
As she continues treatment, Catie is unable to work but she hopes to one day put everything she has learnt during her degree into action.
Catie felt incredibly proud to graduate alongside her fellow nursing students, and to watch them go out into the field, demonstrating the immense empathy that propelled her into nursing in the first place.
“I’m so thrilled for my nursing friends. Because Batemans Bay is such a small campus, we’ve got to know each other well, and as much as I wish I was able to work too, I’m proud of them all.”