Barbara Mitchell OAM

A newly qualified Barbara (right) at Old Windsor Hospital.

Barbara Mitchell was born at Belfield and lived as a child around Enfield. In 1972 she moved to Emu Plains, married, had 3 children and began training as a nurse at Westmead Group School. After a secondment at Old Windsor Hospital she trained in midwifery at Blacktown Hospital and went on to work at Westmead in the operating theatre, specialising in the cardiac area and working to improve pre and post operative care. This involved pre-op visits to patients to provide them with a familiar face when they came in for the operation and visiting the ward after the operation to help assess how the patients were coping and provide advice for going home. 

In 1997 Barbara moved to Nepean Hospital working in the operating theatre as a Clinical Registered Nurse. 

In 2006 Barbara became aware of the work of Dr Hasan Sarwar who worked at Nepean Hospital and would use his holidays to travel back to Bangladesh to perform surgery on children with cleft lip and palate. Barbara leapt at the chance to go and this changed everything. In 2007 Barbara became co-founder of Aussi Bangla Smile. Since then, a team of nurses and doctors, mostly from Nepean Hospital, go to Bangladesh every year to carry out operations. They travel to remote areas, sometimes working on barges which use the river system to provide access to people who can’t easily travel to larger centres. One of the difficulties is managing the number of families who want help. They take all equipment they need with them and leave the instruments there when they return to Australia. All staff and doctors pay out of their own funds to travel over to Bangladesh. Staff start at 6am and often finish at 10pm, but Barbara feels it is such a rewarding experience that team members are always keen to return. They now also perform surgery on some burns and provide education and support for health workers in Bangladesh. Barbara has been instrumental in making this happen, organising fundraisers (their big one is a trivia night at St Marys League Club every year) and travelling as part of the team most years.  

Barbara also started the Emu Plains chapter of Days for Girls which provides menstrual kits and health education for girls throughout the world where stigma and limitations force girls to miss school and other opportunities. Barbara and her group of volunteers have provided kits and educational material to Northern Territory, Bangladesh, Thailand, Solomon Islands, Syria, Mozambique, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Nepal, Philippines, Malaysia, Fiji and Bali. 

Since Barbara started at Nepean Hospital, she has seen the hospital and healthcare grow and improve. The number of operating theatres in the hospital has grown from 8 to 14. Medical technology, equipment and instruments have changed dramatically since she started her nursing career. 

Barbara retired in 2014 but continues her work with Aussi Bangla Smile and Day 4 Girls. 

In 2015 Barbara was recognised for her work and received a Medal of the Order of Australia.