Home / Feros Stories / When two worlds collide: Meet Artist and Registered Nurse, Sandra McKenny

When two worlds collide: Meet Artist and Registered Nurse, Sandra McKenny

Some consider art and science like chalk and cheese, but we find these two elements in perfect harmony in Sandra McKenny. Sandra shares how she combines her two passions at Feros Care. 

Part-time as a Registered Nurse (RN) at Feros Village Byron Bay and student at Byron Bay School of Art, Sandra is a busy lady to get a hold of! When we give her a buzz to ask some questions, she’s with her husband, cruising down the highway through Port Macquarie. They’re on their way to ‘Sydney Contemporary’ – Australia’s International Art Fair. Sandra says excitedly as she turns down the music, “It’s who’s who in the young art world!”

From art to science

When Sandra graduated high school in 1973 in Newcastle, she took her first steps towards her dream of becoming an artist, and enrolled in her local Arts School. She soon discovered that money could be scarce in the art world, and switched her apron for scrubs to train as a nurse at Royal Newcastle Hospital from 1975 to 1978. Sandra then worked in hospitals for a number of years before trying her hand at aged care. And she never looked back. Finding it challenging and incredibly rewarding, Sandra decided to stay and build a career in aged care for the last 30 years.

… and back again!

In 2014, Sandra and her husband retired and moved from the beaches of North Shore Sydney to those of northern New South Wales. She finally had time to reawaken her ambition of studying at Art School, majoring in photography, projections and digital and print-making. ”I went full circle,” she laughs.

Feros Care: Where Sandra feels empowered to combine her passions

In 2016, Sandra decided to pick up her stethoscope again to support her studies, joining Feros Care as a part-time RN. Over the last four years, she has undertaken a number of roles across Byron Bay and Bangalow – from relieving Care Managers to even working within the funding team. She’s also our resident Zentangle teacher.

“Zentangle is focused pattern drawing. It’s about increasing focus to relieve stress and anxiety. I run a weekly group at Byron Bay. I’ll soon be working with psychology Masters student Alex McCord from the Positive Living Team to run a clinical trial. We aim to uncover the therapeutic benefits of Zentangle.” 

Now, in her final year of Art School, Sandra is set to graduate in November and will be hosting an exhibition to showcase her chef-d’oeuvres from the last four years.

We asked Sandra to reflect on her experiences at Feros Care and offer advice to RNs considering a career in aged care and disability.

1) Grasp the opportunity to bring your ideas to life 

“Compared to the hospital setting, you have the chance to be creative in the aged care and disability space. Not only have I had the opportunity to bring joy to our residents through art, but other ideas of mine have come to life. When I was working in a documentation role, I helped combine the Clinical Care Plan and the Positive Living Care Plan for our residents to ensure we looked at our residents more holistically.”

2) Embrace a more challenging role 

“Some young nurses assume that working in aged care is easier than in the hospital – but it’s actually a step up. A lot of hospital work is very directed. In aged care and disability, you work independently and so there is more scope for decision-making. 

In hospital, patients come and go. In our work, it’s not just about treating patients with symptoms. You have the scope to address the social and psychological wellbeing of residents, which means you have the opportunity to use a broader range of skills. Every day is a new adventure! At Byron Bay, the role has a strong psychological and social focus. At Bangalow, we have a high-care facility so the role tends to be more clinical.”

3) Learn from your residents             

People become wiser and more interesting as they age, adding layers of life and experience. I have learned so much from my residents over the years and feel I am a better person for knowing them.

Before we let Sandra and her husband turn up the stereo and return to their roadtrip, we ask her for any final parting words. She pauses for a moment. 

“I would encourage RNs working in any field to give aged care a go. It’s truly rewarding.”

Share this story 
Ask a Feros Care expert
Who would you like to talk to?
Disability Support expert 9am - 4pm (AEST) Monday to Friday