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Alice Tait (nee Mills), Olympic Gold Medallist turned nurse, put her skills of adaptability and resourcefulness to the test on a recent surgical mission to Egypt with Operation Smile Australia.

Alice is well-known for her swimming pursuits, having an illustrious career which rewarded her with a total of 20 major international medals, including 2 gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

But since retiring in 2012, Alice has traded the swimming pool for the operating theatre, currently working as a paediatric theatre nurse at the Queensland Children’s Hospital.

In 2018, Alice came across Operation Smile Australia through a colleague who was about to embark on their first volunteer mission. Her interest was sparked! Here was an opportunity for Alice to share her nursing skills and expertise, aid in the provision of health care to those less fortunate globally and have an immediate and tangible impact on children’s lives by helping to repair facial deformities that make it challenging for children to eat, breathe, hear and of course smile.

It was a no brainer! Fast forward through COVID, and when surgical missions were back on the table, Alice was first to put up her hand!

When asked of her motivation to join a mission, Alice highlighted that she ‘wanted to maximise the benefit of her skills beyond the 4 walls of my hospital and broaden my horizons’.

When reflecting on her experience in Egypt, Alice felt that it had made her ‘a better nurse, more knowledgeable and more resourceful’.

Alice shared a story of a young boy, about 4 years of age who walked into his cleft lip surgery on his own, with no parents to escort him in. He did not speak English, or Alice Arabic, so communication was based on gestures. Alice bent down to welcome the boy to the room and he immediately reached for her and they had a hug. ‘This was so special to me as I could see the universal language of compassion, and selfishly I was missing my boys back home in Australia – I think I needed that hug too!’

‘We are so lucky in Australia to have access to the medical system that we do, any child born with these conditions receives treatment, free of charge. As a mother, I can’t imagine how it would feel to have a child born with a facial abnormality and not be able to help them.’