Chris Patterson takes great delight in working closely to support people with lived experience of mental illness at the Recovery Camp he co-founded.
To be acknowledged for this and be named Nurse of the Year at the recent Australian Healthcare Excellence Awards, was a genuine surprise and honour for the University of Wollongong lecturer and PhD candidate.
While the prestigious award recognised Mr Patterson's outstanding contribution to mental health nursing and education, the man himself was quick to thank the entire Recovery Camp team.
Recovery Camp is a Wollongong-based social enterprise that brings nursing students and people with mental illness together at a five-day camp to learn from each other, and to provide greater understanding of mental illness and those who live with it.
"We don't do what we do for awards, but it is truly humbling to be recognised by my peers. I want to make sure the entire Recovery Camp team gets to bask in this moment, as it is a massive team effort," he said.
Mr Patterson said Recovery Camp provided student nurses the opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills that cannot be learned in textbooks.
"During camp, bonds are created between the students and participants and from there conversations start, participants open up about what it is like to live with mental illness," he said.
"Students rarely get the chance to have these discussions and it gives them a deep understanding of living with a mental illness and the recovery process.
"It is also a powerful opportunity for people with mental illness to be seen as people rather than patients."
Recovery Camp managing director Maree Kerr said the award was great recognition for Mr Patterson and the innovative program which works with 11 universities from across the country.
It is also accredited by the Nurses and Midwives Accreditation Council, and has five years of research underpinning its work.
Mr Patterson added student feedback about Recovery Camp had been very positive, with some indicating it had changed the nursing path they planned to follow.
Likewise, people with mental illness had revealed the camp was "life changing".
"This is why we do what we do at Recovery Camp. It is because it makes a difference. Recovery Camp positively impacts all its participants."