Paul Galea and Jessica Gutknecht (2013)

Nurse Jessica Gutknecht (2013) joins the frontline against COVID.

Paul Galea: How are you?

Jessica: I’m good. How are you?

Paul Galea: I’m well. So I’m ringing you up just to find out what’s going on with your life at the moment. What you’ve been doing since you left school, and some of the adventures you’ve been on in terms of getting to where you are. So why don’t we start with what are you actually doing now with yourself?

Jessica: So I’m working full time as a registered nurse, which is fun at the moment. Been interesting, but it’s been really good. I’m really enjoying it.

Paul Galea: So are you being very involved in COVID sort of stuff ? Very involved? Tell us a little bit.

Jessica: After the first wave that we had, within about two weeks of it happening, my ward, which is originally Orthopaedics, got closed and turned into a COVID ward. Which was interesting at the start, and quite, I think quite scary, because we didn’t really know what was going to happen. We didn’t really know any of the processes or what was the right thing to do, so it was a bit of like a learning process at the start. But we were lucky in Australia. It only really lasted probably for about a month and a half, two months, the first wave. And it wasn’t as bad as we had anticipated. So it ended up being okay, and we sort of thought it was behind us. Since then that was probably two years ago. Now, we’ve done it about four or five times since, and it’s just gotten worse each time. Pretty scary.

Paul Galea: Really. For you front line workers.

Jessica: Yes. No, it was really, it was just the start that was really scary because of the unknown. And then I think now it’s just scary because we’re just praying that it all will be over so we can go back to normal work.

Paul Galea: And you’ve been okay? You haven’t had it at all?

Jessica: You know, I think I’m one of the only ones I know that hasn’t had it. I’m shocked. I don’t know how. We’ll see.

Paul Galea: Yeah, fingers crossed. Tell me, how did you actually get to be a registered nurse?

Jessica: I always wanted to do something in medicine, from I think when I was like 10 years old. I wanted to be a surgeon. I watched some TV show and decided that that’s what I wanted to do. And then, I think it was the first time I ever was in hospital myself, maybe as a child, like nothing serious, just like a sore ankle or something like that. And I realised that I’ve seen the doctor for about five minutes. But I was with the nurse the whole time, and she was the one giving me the medicine. She took me to X-ray. She did a lot more of the hands on stuff. So that’s why I thought, oh, maybe that’s a bit more up my alley because I actually want to be present in the whole process of someone being in hospital. And so I looked into it, I think probably maybe in Year 10 or 11 when we kind of start having to think about university and stuff like that. And, I made the decision that I wanted to kind of aim for the Sydney Uni course that’s got the Master’s degree attached to it. So it’s actually been a double degree. I wanted to have something to fall back on. Which sounds funny, because it was always very clear for me that I wanted to do nursing. But I ended up doing the Masters of Nursing and Bachelor of Arts at Sydney. So I did languages all throughout my degree. It was like a backup. But then, yeah, it was very clear from the beginning, because what I wanted to do, was nursing.

Paul Galea: And obviously, doing the dual degree gave you a pretty broad sort of educational background and also meant dealing with a whole bunch of different people. Did you find going to IGS was a help with dealing with people? Was that something that you felt was advantageous?

Jessica: Yeah. I definitely thought that. I remember one of the first few weeks at Uni, a few of us from School, actually, we went to a one of those camps, and it was sort of like a first years meeting camp thing, and it was just really interesting to see. I think it was three or four of us from our school and we just found it so easy to socialise with all these different people. And, we made quite a group that we ended up hanging out with for a few years after that. Actually, from that first week of Uni, it was interesting that some other people really struggled with speaking to people that were a bit different to them. And I think the IGS kids always did that easily. I didn’t even realise that I’ve had a different skill set to other people who didn’t maybe go to our school. So it was interesting to see that. And then, I think, going through lots of different subjects, both nursing and arts and just meeting people from all over Sydney, I found it fine. But I think other people definitely struggled.

Paul Galea: Unity Through Diversity, baby!

Jessica: Exactly.

Paul Galea: The motto. Hopefully, that’s what we’re pushing! So obviously you’re giving back to our world through your nursing, which to me, is a very noble profession. This is someone who knows nothing about it, but I’ve been in hospital enough to see it in action. Does that make you feel good about yourself in terms of who you are and what you’re doing?

Jessica: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s funny because when you’re in it, you almost forget the service to the society that you’re giving or whatever it is, because I think everyone’s job has some sort of service. But, I think when you’re in it, you get used to it and then people sort of explain it. Or I might have a patient or a patient’s family that might, give us a gift at the end or just sort of really, really express their thanks. And then that’s kind of when it sets in that okay, we’ve actually really made a difference for this person. Which has been really nice. And then, obviously with COVID, we saw a lot of praise, which has really kind of helped us get through it all. But yeah, it’s funny. When you’re in it, you sort of forget that. That’s what you’re doing.

Paul Galea: Well, I think part of it is you, probably. That’s who you are. And that’s what you do. And you just basically take that what you’re doing, what you do, and it’s not you’re not seeing anything particularly special, but for people who are looking from the outside, it is very special. Now, basically, I remember you very, very fondly as a young student and then also as a fantastic aftercare and club worker. And you made some really great connections with people from our community and still have them. Have you got any particular happy memories from school that you’d like to share?

Jessica: Oh, there’s so many. I mean, I think just every ArtsFest was just without doubt, my favourite day of the year. I just absolutely loved it, which is funny as well. Like, I wasn’t really an artistic kid. I could sort of draw. I could sort of play music, but it wasn’t my forte by any means, but I think it was just it’s one of those days. I think we’re one of the only schools that do it. I don’t think I can think of any other school that has art being linked to the Inter House Cup throughout the year. But it was just fun because everyone just got involved. The teachers would get involved. Everyone was enjoying themselves. And then I did a lot of trips when at the school. So I did Antipodeans, which is awesome. I thought that was such a good program and obviously Lucy (Howard-Shibuya) behind that is just incredible. And then I also went on the Spanish Exchange, which I thought was great. I mean, we were so young. It was a really young age to do an exchange. It was sort of like a little taste, because it was the three-week one. Yeah, it was just so nice. Like, there’s so many cool little things you can do with at IGS. I mean, I guess exchanges are the larger things, but just cool opportunities that you can take, which I loved. And then, out of being a student, I just loved After Care. I actually just really, really enjoyed it. I think it was fun to sort of be on the other side a little bit at the school. And I mean, I went to IGS from Preschool, so I didn’t know anything else. And I think having the comfort of kind of going back to work there and sort of still having my little happy place when I was doing all these new things was just also really nice. And you still get to see all your teachers. And I mean the kids are just so great and the families. So it was nice to sort of stay a part of that community that you’ve been a big part of your whole life.

Paul Galea: Yeah, it’s definitely nice. One last question and thank you very much. This has been magnificent. Any advice that you would give to the kids at school from your experience of leaving school and going out in the big wide world? Things you can look back on and say, maybe this is something they could think about doing?

Jessica: I think once you leave, you realise how much good there is at IGS. And you almost regret taking only like half of the opportunities, and there’s still so many that you could have taken. So I just think, take everything you can while you’re there and get the most out of it because, I mean, I was there for, what, 12, 13 years? And I still say I should have gone on that trip, or I should have said yes to that competition that Mr Galea wanted to put me in randomly where I have to go visit another school. And I ended up saying no, but just there’s so many cool little things you can do and just to take all of it, before it’s too late. But there’s also so much good to come once you leave as well. There’s so much more out there. But I think IGS just really prepares you for that.

Paul Galea: Jess, an absolute delight to talk to one of the great young women that have left our school. And it’s a pleasure to talk to you. And we do stay in touch, so speak soon and look after yourself.

Jessica: All right, I’ll talk to you soon. Thanks, Paul.