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Waikato's queen of pain management Sue King retires on a high note

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

New Zealand’s first nurse practitioner registered to prescribe pain medication is leaving her lifelong career at Waikato DHB to gracefully retire after 33 years of achievements.

In 2010, she was New Zealand’s first pain nurse practitioner, and more recently the first female to be accepted and honoured into the New Zealand Pain Society. With so many memorable moments throughout her career, those two were very significant to Sue.

Being a nurse in the pain service, more so as a practitioner, she also highlighted having the ability to work with people who had great character.

"Pain can destroy people’s lives. It’s an incredibly stressful situation that no one chooses to be in.

Sue King near the beginning of her career

"People can go on a treadmill of multiple investigations, looking for answers, causes, cures and go nowhere. Sometimes you meet with these people, they are so sad and helpless, and you feel that you have their weight on your shoulders.

"Having an ability to work with people who have a great sense of humour, and use that humour in an appropriate way, was really important and helped me be the person I am throughout my profession."

Sue and Dr Steve Jones, Specialist Anaesthetist, were the founding members of the Waikato pain team since its inception in 1994. They both set it up and Sue was the first nurse who even lent a hand to writing the position description for one which role, she was told to apply.

"Steve and I did everything. I even took on a marketing role, which saw me promoting our services during the evening and night shifts to nurses and educating other departments on what we were trying to achieve.

"We started in surgical services but overtime became quite well known and built a healthy reputation with medical consultants across the spectrum of services provided at Waikato Hospital and across the DHB.

"Overtime we started supporting major trauma pain management, and also built a close relationship with palliative care. So there were clients that would be shared, so to speak, between us and palliative care when pain was a particular issue and they needed our help.

"We really grew and changed significantly overtime to meet the different needs of the health system."

Back in the good ole days, Sue second from left

In pain management, Sue is the one face that has stayed the same. She’s worked with a number of consultants, from house surgeons to registrars, some of which she’s grown up with.

Why pain management for all these years?

"Because I’ve loved my job. I love the job. Loved the field of nursing I moved in to. The anaesthetic department is extremely supportive and I have felt well respected, professionally and personally by anaesthetic clinical directors, and equally nurse managers of theatres."

In fact, it was the Clinical Director, Dr David Kibblewhite, who was instrumental in supporting Sue’s wish to go for the nurse practitioner registration and helping, along with Libby MacEwan the Nurse Manager of Theatre and Perioperative Services at the time, develop a business case for a NP role in Pain Management.

"As a clinical nurse specialist, I got frustrated and to a point where I couldn’t prescribe. I could do it verbally, as in tell house surgeons what they needed to prescribe, do full assessment plans, and plan ongoing therapy - but I couldn’t physically prescribe - which sometimes caused delays.

"This was one of the reasons I became a nurse practitioner to become a legal prescriber."

Some of Sue’s achievements in brief

Relished in growing relationships nationally with other pain nurse colleges. Was part of a group of pain nurses who formed a Specialist Nurses in Pain Management (SNIPM) group, subsequently becoming a nursing interest group, under the New Zealand Pain Society where Sue became the group’s first Chair.

She was on the executive of the New Zealand Pain Society (NZPS) as secretary for 6 years from 2006-2012. She built networks across the country and internationally and got to understand the political nuances of chronic pain management.

Sue drafted job descriptions for the NZPS that included roles for council members, the president and treasurer etc. She got involved in a lot of administration and networking that really interested her at a time when a lot was happening around the world in pain management including the Declaration of Montréal.

She built a close relationship with the Waikato Emergency Department (ED) to introduce care plans to better deal with frequent presenters of pain. She really enjoyed working to change some of the processors and improve patient journeys with ED. She says it didn’t always work accordingly, but it helped some of the doctor’s assess some patients faster by having their history of pain investigations and procedures at hand.

In 2014 Sue set up her own pain clinic at the Waikato Meade Clinical Centre to see inpatients that were complex enough to go home on strong opioids but needed some oversight post discharge.

She would also see patients with acute pain problems they thought could transition into chronic and indeed saw some patients with chronic pain who had been in hospital with a new acute pain problem.

Although the clinic is not currently operating, Sue has developed a succession plan and hopes in time someone can continue its good work.

After all these years still passionate, fit and bursting with enthusiasm for helping people in acute and chronic pain; we ask ourselves - why is Sue King retiring?

It’s the perfect time for her and her partner to work together on their 2.5 acre property that they both dearly love, she says.

"There’s so much to do. We have chooks and are both about to embark on being hobbyist bee keepers having completed a beekeeping course. We have a lot of gardens and try to be as self-sufficient as possible with our home-grown vegetables and fruit.

"Oh, and we’re also getting a puppy.

"Outside of deciding to chase my home and hobby dreams, I’m professionally ready to leave. Pain service has been my baby all these years and I’m now prepared to pass it on to someone with the same dedication as me.

"I’ve loved the work, the people, and will miss the simulation of my job. I am a little anxious about the looming retirement but am excited about the new chapter of my life."

And so the story goes just like most influential kiwis that leave on a high note - so will Sue.

Although Sue is officially retiring from nursing, she won’t be hanging up her will to knowledge share as she plans to voluntarily present on a monthly basis at a pain clinic education seminar for outpatients until the end of the year.

Sue also wants to do more voluntary work, but is not sure what that looks like yet.

"I’m going to chill first. I’m pretty tired. My first couple of months off is full with friends, family and a trip to Thailand.

With so much to look forward to and do, Sue’s retirement should be rebranded to ‘just getting started’.

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