Grace Centre farewells leading neonatal nurse

From Baxter Ward to Westmead, A/Prof Kaye Spence AM has been a leading neonatal nurse at the Grace Centre for Newborn Intensive Care for more than four decades. 

But as all good things must come to an end, A/Prof Spence is bidding farewell to the Grace Centre and The Children’s Hospital at Westmead (CHW) this week following what has been a pioneering career. 

A/Prof Spence is a mentor to many nurses within the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network (SCHN), across Australia and beyond. In addition to being a Clinical Nurse Consultant (CNC) in the Grace Centre, A/Prof Spence is Co-Director of the Australasian NIDCAP Training Centre and holds an adjunct position at Western Sydney University’s School of Nursing and Midwifery. 

Her philosophy to supporting nurses in their careers and research is simple:

There is potential in everyone, and a leader can inspire that potential to become a reality. 

A/Prof Spence’s career in neonatal nursing began in the 1970’s at the University College Hospital in London. On her return to Australia in the early 1980’s, she joined the staff of the Grace Centre, which was known then as the Baxter Ward at Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children in Camperdown. 

Once the hospital was relocated to Westmead, A/Prof initially thought she’d stay for a year or two. But the comradery within the team, opportunities in research and education, as well as the development of NIDCAP – saw her become a stalwart of the Grace Centre to this day. 

“What I love about the Grace Centre is the work that we do and its team. It has been a very dedicated team and the comradery has been lovely, from Baxter through to today,” A/Prof Spence said. 

“It is rewarding because the work that’s been done has translated into good outcomes, which we’ve seen in the babies we’ve cared for over the years.” 

A/Prof Spence has led nursing research in the Grace Centre and established the Clinical Neonatal Nursing Research Fellowship, a program designed for clinical nurses to undertake a small research study to learn about the process and gain experience to put the evidence to practice. 

Her research has focused on the practice areas of feeding infants following neonatal surgery, newborn pain, developmental care, parental support, and nurse knowledge of the outcomes of their care. During her career, A/Prof Spence has had more than 50 publications in peer reviewed journals, chapters in five textbooks, and has presented her work at numerous international conferences - many as an invited speaker.   

“I’m very proud of nursing and where neonatal nursing as a specialty has gone. I’ve always been a passionate advocate for research, and just seeing nurses do their research and have a research career has been so rewarding,” A/Prof Spence said. 

"We have some bright, shining stars coming through.” 

Leading the way in neonatal developmental care, the Grace Centre opened the Australasian NIDCAP Training Centre in 2018. A/Prof Spence was one of the staff members that heralded this journey for more than two decades, which she said is one of her most proud achievements. 

A/Prof Spence is a NIDCAP Professional, Co-Director of the Australasian NIDCAP Training Centre, Senior Editor of the Developmental Observer, and has served on the Board of Directors of the NIDCAP Federation International. 

“It was always a vision of mine that we would become a training centre. That vision became a reality towards the end of my career and I’m very proud of that,” A/Prof Spence said. 

In celebration of her career and duty to the Hospital, A/Prof Spence received her 40 Year Service Award from SCHN last week. 

This was the latest recognition of her decorated career, having received a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 1999 for her services to neonatal nursing, professional organisations, and education. A/Prof Spence was also the inaugural recipient of the Judith Meppem Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2012 NSW Health Nursing and Midwifery Awards.  

She was a founding member of The Association of Neonatal Nurses of NSW, Inaugural President of the Australian Neonatal Nurses Association, founding member and Secretary of the Council of International Neonatal Nurses, and President of the Perinatal Society of Australia and New Zealand.

A scholarship was launched in her name this year via Grace Centre’s annual Susan Ryan Seminar. The annual scholarship will be awarded to support neonatal nurses to attend conferences, lead small research or quality improvement projects, or attend a neonatal care-related course. 

While A/Prof Spence spends her next chapter immersed in writing, the multidisciplinary team in the Grace Centre will continue to benefit from her exceptional work through research supervision and consultancy via the Australasian NIDCAP Training Centre. 

But as she bids farewell to the clinical setting, she knows the best is yet to come. 

“What I’ll miss the most? I think I’ll miss coming out to the Hospital, the support and teamwork, and working with young and diverse people,” A/Prof Spence said. 

“I’ll miss the babies, but I feel as though I’m leaving it in good hands.”