5 Minutes with Audrey Burgin, a continence nurse speicalist.


Audrey Burgin has more than 45 years’ experience as a community nurse, and 15 years’ experience as a continence nurse specialist focused on community and aged care in Queensland. Audrey has a keen interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health promotion and is currently employed as a clinical nurse, caring for patients attending an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Primary Health Care Clinic in Brisbane.


What is a primary health care clinic?

Primary Health Care (PHC) is the first level of health care and is generally the first point of contact a person has with the health system and their local general practitioner (GP).

Why do you think it’s important to tackle incontinence at the primary health care level?

Especially with our ageing population, primary health care plays an important role in keeping people well and in their communities. GPs and other health professionals form a good, trusting relationship with the patient in a culturally- safe, appropriate and comfortable environment, which enables patients to discuss the sensitive topic of incontinence.

What started your passion for improving incontinence awareness and wellbeing in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities?

Over the years, I have heard many stories from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of all ages about their reluctance to openly discuss issues of living with incontinence. This is mainly due to feelings of shame and embarrassment and the associated stigma. They may not be aware that incontinence can be treated and may believe incontinence is a normal part of ageing. In my role I have developed skills to yarn about bladder and bowel problems with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients in a culturally appropriate way.

l use visual pictures and storytelling to increase awareness of incontinence and its management and dispel some myths.

How can Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities be better supported to seek help for incontinence?

It is important to work directly with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and involve community elders and health care workers to find the best methods for their community.

Information on incontinence and where to get help should be provided in a culturally appropriate way and use easy- to-understand language and non-medical terminology. I was proud to help with the development of the Continence Foundation of Australia’s range of brochures on incontinence for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. These are available online or can be ordered by calling the National Continence Helpline 1800 33 00 66.

Your work in continence nursing has even taken you overseas. Can you tell us about the ‘Nurses in Action’ project in Kenya?

The ‘Nurses in Action’ program is run by World Youth International in Kenya and Nepal. I volunteered with other nurses in the remote village of Odede, Kenya, which provided me with a wonderful opportunity and experience to live and work with the local community. My skills as a nurse were challenged to improvise providing care using the most basic facilities and resources.

People with incontinence suffered in silence with very little help available, due to the high cost of access to health care in the country. They managed it in a very basic way by making their own incontinence protection from old cotton clothing. Local women made these continence and sanitary pads so other women didn’t have to miss out on education and community activities.

This made me think about how fortunate we are in Australia with the support available from our health care system, Continence Foundation and the Australian Government.

This story was first published in Bridge Magazine. Subscribe to Bridge online.