Alumni profile

Andrew Cameron OAM

Bachelor of Nursing, 1991

Director of Nursing at Birdsville Clinic

Andrew Cameron OAM is a highly decorated nurse and humanitarian-aid worker. 

Recognised nationally and internationally as a leader in the nursing profession, Andrew's work has taken him to some of the world's most troubled hot spots including Sierra Leone, Sudan, Iraq, Yemen, The Caucasus and Afghanistan.

Andrew is currently the Director of Nursing at one of Australia's most remote inland clinics in Birdsville, Queensland.

Over nine years, Andrew volunteered in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kenya, Sudan, Yemen, Ossetia and Sierra Leone. During two years in Afghanistan, his leadership led to the polio vaccination of many thousands of at-risk children and young adults. Most recently, Andrew worked as a manager of safe-burials at the Red Cross Ebola Treatment Centre in Kenema, Sierra Leone.

Andrew has long demonstrated a commitment to mentoring employees, including his work in the northern mountains of Yemen, where for ten months he supported medical and nursing staff to improve the standards of care in clinics and in camps for Internally Displaced People. In Australia, Andrew gives his time voluntarily to help run emergency nursing courses throughout remote areas.

In 2011, Andrew received the highest international distinction in nursing – the rarely awarded Florence Nightingale Medal "for exceptional courage and devotion to victims of armed conflict". In 2004 he was named Australian Nurse of the Year and in 2013 received the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to the nursing profession.

Andrew Cameron OAM was recognised for his contributions to the nursing profession, both nationally and internationally, with a 2015 La Trobe University Distinguished Alumni Award.

Your work has exposed you to some of world’s most distressing humanitarian crises. What motivates you to undertake such challenging work?

There are many people around the world suffering considerable stress just managing day-to-day survival in situations of natural disaster and as victims of war. Ten years ago I got a chance to work in a Red Cross War-Surgical Field Hospital in Kenya where I gained some skills and abilities for that kind of work, and then I came to realise that it was something I wanted to continue on with… it suits me, who I am. I really enjoy a challenge and have never really minded “hardship” living environments. 

All of life involves taking risks to some degree, and the more good I can do for others on my professional journey, then I am happier for that.

Do you have a personal philosophy that you bring to your work?

The personal philosophy that I bring to my work is that I cherish the opportunity to help those in desperate need; those in dire circumstances. To give a starving man a sack of rice for his family, to provide safety, security and shelter for those exposed as victims of war, or to enable a way for an injured person to receive expert medical care and remediation, that is what motivates me. If I have the opportunity to work in an organisation doing this important aid, then why not grab the opportunity.

What has been your greatest career highlight(s)?

Perhaps my greatest career highlight was being awarded the Florence Nightingale Medal in Geneva. This is a rarely awarded international nursing honour - for nursing service to victims of war. Some notable past Australian recipients were Elsie Pidgeon from WW1, (Gallipoli) and Vivian Bullwinkel from WW2 (Bangka Island Massacre), so I was very surprised but delighted to receive it for the work I had done in Afghanistan and other places of conflict. Graduating with my Bachelor of Nursing from La Trobe and with my midwifery registration certificate from Queen Victoria Medical Centre in Lonsdale Street, are also very memorable on my list of career highlights.

What has been your greatest career challenge? How did you navigate this challenge?

My greatest career challenge was to figure out some way to remain as a “bedside nurse” where I felt I could be most useful, instead of morphing into an “office-sitter” type of nurse somewhere in obscurity. It probably hasn’t been the best move career-wise, professionally and financially, but really I am not such a person to stare at a computer screen and write reports.

How would you describe the path you have taken to get you to where you are today?

I would say it has been a path strewn with rocks which I have had to climb over, tunnel under, or negotiate my way around. 

Life is not meant to be easy, so they say, and I think the most rewarding things often result from the most difficult circumstances.

Do you have any sage advice for those starting out in their careers?

I think it is important to remain true to what you feel is right for you. Take some risks, get out of your comfort zone and don’t stick in the one position for too long. I worked as a Director of Nursing at Mornington Island Hospital for seven years, which I now realise was probably a bit long. Three to five years is a good amount of time to make a contribution, after which one might get stale, or gain too much “ownership” and to begin to think you are irreplaceable. Of course this way of looking at a career will not be suitable for everyone. Also vitally important is to continue to study. Learn whatever you can from experts in their respective fields.

What impact did La Trobe have on your career and life?

Studying at La Trobe was one of the best things I have ever done. It was a wonderful time with great collegial support and a wide range of subject choices. The School of Nursing was considered one of the best in Australia (and perhaps still is), and I was very happy to have a place there. It laid a comprehensive foundation for my future in the nursing profession.

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Last updated: 10th May 2019