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Penny's Blog - Star of Courage for Bob Fenwick, Mental Health Nurse

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Penny Wright 19 Mar 2012

When it comes to awards for bravery, I'm always amazed at the range of people among us - our workmates, our neighbours and colleagues - who may be moved to acts of extraordinary valour in the heat of a crisis.

We know that emergencies can bring out the best in people. And so it was with Bob Fenwick. But unlike the bushfires, floods and cyclones that have been part of our national experience recently, it was in the workplace that Bob's courage shone through.

Today Bob Fenwick was posthumously awarded the Star of Courage in the Governor General's annual Bravery Awards.

Bob Fenwick died last year in the course of his work as a psychiatric nurse in Orange NSW after he put himself between a colleague and a patient with a knife. The patient was experiencing severe mental illness at the time. Through Bob's quick actions he saved the life of a colleague, a young nurse of 20, but in doing so he gave up his own.

There are many people called upon to act with courage in their workplaces from time to time and some occupations, like fire officers, police officers and our defence force personnel , immediately spring to mind.

But Bob's award reminds us that there are many other workers who perform small and large acts of honour and bravery every day. In my experience, this is certainly true of the best mental health nurses, who evince compassion and courage as they carry out their challenging but vital work.

Despite popular misconceptions, acts of violence among those with severe mental illness are rare -but psychosis is a distressing condition for the person experiencing it and those around them. It requires skilled and caring management. I discussed this recently in a speech before the Senate.

I was inspired by Bob's story this morning when I heard an interview between NSW Nurses' Association general secretary Brett Holmes and Radio National's Fran Kelly.

To honour Bob Fenwick's memory and his dedication to mentoring less experienced mental health nurses, the Bob Fenwick Memorial Mentoring Grants Program has been developed, which aims to encourage better experienced nurses to train those younger or newer to the profession in NSW.

It is a worthy tribute to a courageous man.

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