Hidden Healthcare: Determined to improve men's health

Hidden Healthcare: Determined to improve men's health Nurse Practitioner David Heath has taken an active role in trying to improve men's health in Loddon Mallee region.
Hidden Healthcare takes a look behind the scenes at some of the people powering regional Victoria's largest hospital.

David Heath’s first week at TAFE was, by his own admission, a struggle.

“I couldn’t turn the computer on, I had no idea,” he said.

The painter of 17 years was embarking on a new career in nursing after picking up a few niggling trade injuries and insists he wasn’t the most academic.

“I was the kind of kid that used to get thrown out of school. The truth is study is still hard for me, it’s my biggest challenge, but that’s OK, I just get my head down,” he said.

Ten years of academic study, six formal qualifications, and countless months of practical training prove that David – now a nurse practitioner – doesn’t mind the odd challenge.

He began work at Bendigo Health in the orthopaedic ward before moving to ICU, then paramedicine, and eventually getting a position as a prostate cancer nurse.

Men’s health wasn’t directly on David’s radar but as he progressed in the role, he realised the value of what he was doing.

David would take clinics for follow up appointments to help patients deal with side effects of treatment and he believes his background as a tradesperson, being surrounded by men, has helped with some difficult conversations.

“When talking about erections you’ve got to tailor your approach but I think overall it helps to be upfront with them and provide all the information possible,” he said.

“Most health professionals have a good understanding of patients and are good at reading people. But I’ve certainly also learnt a lot from the female nurses I’ve worked with.”

Taking clinics “freed up a spot” for other prostate cancer patients elsewhere, and it was this ability to of help more patients’ access care by supporting medical staff that encouraged David to do his masters of nursing and become a urology/oncology Nurse Practitioner (NP).

As a NP he takes a urology cancer clinic, and performs minor procedures like cystoscopies and prostate biopsies. David is the only NP in Australia currently doing prostate biopsies.

“The job I do enables people with a higher skill set to deal with higher acuity patients, it provides better utilisation of theatres and ultimately means more patients get seen because at the end of the day it’s all about the patients,” he said.

David’s commitment to patients fuelled his push to fundraise for Bendigo Health’s new transperineal biopsy machine, which has been in operation for a couple of months.

The machine provides more accurate diagnosis and improved access to the prostate for public patients who previously had to travel to Melbourne for the procedure.

Despite his many successes, David is typically modest in his assessment of his career.

"Anyone can do it. Everyone has something that they can channel their energy into, you’ve just got to give yourself enough time to do what you want to do,” he said.