Seashells: the power of nurses


My name is Oliver Spence, I am a 17 year old student in Sydney’s east and this is a story I think might be of interest to the nursing community.

In December last year my four siblings and I lost our dear mother Beth Spence to cancer. Though her time at St Vincent’s hospital was brief, she found deep peace of mind and comfort through the hard work and dedication of the nursing staff. Not only did they help my mother, but also the family as a whole. During that numb stage of shock during my mother’s treatments, the nurses’ devoted care helped us back into normality away from the devastating pain grief and illness can cause.

Here is where our story starts. From this experience my siblings and I were deeply convicted to help sustain and assist this incredible community. We wanted to utilise the abundant resources we see in our community and put them to benefiting a positive and powerful cause. We have undertaken the initial goal of raising $700,000 to endow a postgraduate nursing scholarship at the University of Sydney. Here is our story.

Last Christmas, my family and I found out firsthand the abundant care and love a nurse can provide to patients on a personal and daily scale.

In December 2012 our 47 year-old mother fell ill. After a major operation, she was diagnosed with bowel cancer. Within a month of her diagnosis our mother had passed away, leaving our family devastated.


In this turbulent and painful time a few things stood strong and clear to us. One was the deep bond between our family, the second was the loving compassion of the staff at the hospital. It was the nurses who knew all our names (quite a skill considering I have four siblings), the nurses who asked the questions, the nurses who carried us along on our journey when we could barely carry ourselves.

The numb state one experiences during bereavement can be hard to handle and if it were not for the nurturing and caring attention that the staff at St. Vincent’s hospital gave us, we would not had been as resilient as we are now. In such a short time these men and women made an impact that will never be forgotten in the life of my family. An impact that I can only assume they make each and every day to a different family, an impact that we wanted to recognise, an impact we want others to experience during their own difficult times.

After Mum passed away we realised that you never get the opportunity to say thank you. People working in the health industry are not looking for thanks, they are not there to work convenient hours or make good money; they are there to support the sick and their families. So my siblings and I put our heads together and decided that starting a charity that primarily benefited the nursing community was something we were keen to do.

My family has close links to the educational community. Our father has spent his whole career working within universities and so naturally education is a tool we believe has great importance. This, and the fact that we saw the power of well-trained and loving nurses during the month at the hospital, meant we decided education would be our main goal. The ward she was on was blessed with friendly and kind nurses who were extremely good at their job: good at their job because they were loving, but also because they were professional and highly trained.

This is why we have set up the Seashells Foundation. (Seashells was the name of a childcare group my mother used to run for local mothers.) Having realised the power and importance of nurses, Seashells decided to combine nursing and education. We are doing this by focusing on establishing a number of nursing scholarships at the University of Sydney.

We have large goals. We are five siblings attempting to raise $700,000 so that we can support our first scholarship, a scholarship that will remain because of its value for years to come and that will produce many fine nurses.

If this is a project you are interested in learning more about or getting involved in, we would love nothing more than to hear from you. We hope to build a framework through which we are able to, as a foundation, support the work that nurses do across Australia. This is a grass roots project that we are hoping will take a shape that can advantage people for a long time to come. As an example, recently a team of 20 or so runners came down to Hyde Park early on a Sunday morning to run the City to Surf to raise money for the foundation.

If you would like to find out more about upcoming events or how you can get involved, look at our Facebook page. Or contact us at:


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