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Beyond Duty – “An imperfect patchwork” the career of a first responder’s partner.

All ‘Beyond Duty’ artworks by Phillip Marsden and Ken Chung, our digital scribes from KPMG.

The partners of first responders experience many challenges.

One of those is how to build your own career amid the demands of your first responder partner’s role.

At Fortem’s summit, Beyond Duty – what is the bigger picture in first responder wellbeing?, the impact of the first responder role on a partner’s career was highlighted.

We spoke with Graham Ashton, Board Chair of Fortem Australia and former Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, and Dr Liz Sutton, Post Doctoral Research Fellow at Monash University.

During Graham’s 40-year career with both the Australian Federal Police and Victoria Police, he and Liz, together with their children, moved to different parts of the world and around Australia. This posed a challenge for Liz as she built her own career.

“Because first responder jobs are so demanding, the partner’s career can often suffer,” Graham says.

“They have to make sacrifices so that the first responder can achieve things in their career: that’s not always fair but it is a reality.”

Graham says that Liz made many of those sacrifices in her career, which she began as a registered nurse. “Liz has often had to make choices that she would rather not make professionally, in order for me to get through my career as I have.”

Liz says she has a unique way of thinking about her situation, which helps her make sense of it.

“I think about it as having to make a patchwork quilt out of the circumstances that have presented themselves to me,” Liz explains.

“There have been variations, I’ve had to use pieces of fabric that I didn’t necessarily like, the shapes don’t always join up, and you have to be clever about what goes where.”

While she didn’t always feel that the choices she had were ideal, she has made the most of her situation. Liz continues her patchwork quilt analogy to explain her thoughts: “Although it might not be the quilt that I thought I was going to make when I married Graham, it still performs the general purpose of a quilt.”

Whether a career posting is within the same state, across the country, or into an international setting, both Liz and Graham believe that partners require career support from the agencies involved the the first responder community.

“(First responder) organisations could benefit from a formalised partner support network, perhaps in the form of paid liaison officers,” Liz says.

“That partner support network could act like a parental support network as well, when families with children are involved.”

Graham adds, “There may be some simple actions, like reaching out for a conversation, that could help. A move is a massive life shift in a family setting, which can be both positive and negative.”

“Bringing the partner and family into that conversation is absolutely critical in improving the pressure on the first responder and the family.”

There’s much more to this conversation, click play to watch…

More about our speakers:

Graham Ashton AM APM – Board Chair, Fortem Australia.

As the former Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police and Deputy Commissioner of Australian Federal Police, Graham Ashton has a unique combination of management and leadership skills developed during a 40-year career in law enforcement and community service.

Graham lead the Australian investigation into the 2002 Bali bombings for the joint Australian/Indonesian Taskforce, in Bali. His work there resulted in him being appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 2003.

He is a Non-Executive Director of the ‘Male Champions of Change Institute’ a member of the Salvation Army Advisory Board in Victoria, and the current Chair of the Fortem Australia Board.

Dr Liz Sutton, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow – Monash University.

Liz is currently engaged as a Research Fellow at Monash University having completed her Phd in 2019 after 8 long years.

Liz is a champion of patient agency, particularly in relation to reproduction and birth, advance care planning and health service design and change.

She has over 25 years experience working in the health sector. She initially qualified as a registered nurse and worked in the intensive care and coronary care environments. She subsequently completed an Arts Degree in Psychology followed by a Master of Arts and PhD in the area of pain relief requests made by women in labour and how these were responded to by healthcare professionals.

Liz has also been at Graham’s side during his distinguished career. They have been married for 25 years, including stints living in Jakarta and all capital cities on Australia’s eastern seaboard.

Together that have raised two good humans who are having their own impact on the world.

Further recordings from ‘Beyond Duty’ will be published to the Fortem Australia website over the coming weeks. The community is invited to share those recourses widely, be agents for change themselves and keep the conversation and connection going.

Fortem activities, events and community engagements are designed to support the mental fitness of our first responder families. Read more about Our Approach.
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