Eva Ballai fled war-torn Yugoslavia with just two suitcases — one filled with clothes; the other with nursing books.

The registered nurse came to Australia in 1992 as a political war refugee. Just 25 and already heartbroken at leaving her parents behind, Eva’s qualifications were not recognised in Australia and, with limited English skills, she had no idea how she was to build a new life.

However, she set to work, pursued her goals and has spent every minute since trying to make a difference.

Today Eva has a successful nursing career in which she proudly wears three important professional ‘hats’.

Operations Manager for Sydney-based aged care group Synovum Care, Eva is also a Commissioned Nursing Officer in the Australian Defence Force and the volunteer Director of the Australian Foundation for Disability Board.

The three roles might seem an unusual combination, but they allow Eva to care for society’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable citizens.

Eva Ballai is the Operations Manager for Sydney-based aged care group Synovum Care.

It’s her way of saying thank you to Australia.

“I know it sounds cheesy and I’d like to say joining the Australian Army at 40 was a mid-life crisis, but it wasn’t,” she says.

“I think I was ready to give back and I just wanted to say thank you to Australia for giving me a second chance in life.

“Nursing is my life and it’s my character — I just like helping people.”

Eva first came to the Gold Coast in 1992 because her uncle and aunt lived here.

“When my father died the following year, I couldn’t even go home to bury him because I was afraid something would happen as I was a political refugee. It wasn’t easy,” says Eva.

Eva started at TAFE to improve her English skills. She then found herself moving from student to teacher, helping a class full of prisoners who were completing their Year 12 certificates.

It didn’t take long for Eva to find a job as a nursing assistant at a local nursing home. Then she enrolled in a Bachelor of Nursing degree at Griffith University, eventually completing her Australian qualification.

Eva spent many years working in acute care settings at the Gold Coast Hospital, Pindara Private Hospital and Allamanda Private Hospital.

“When I was working at Gold Coast Hospital I was the only non-English speaking nurse at the time,” she says. “Society has come a long way since then.”

Eva returned to Griffith to study a Masters of Business Administration Advanced (Health Care Services Management and Marketing). In 2001, she was proud to be the first female student at Griffith to complete this advanced course.

Eva says this course proved vital to her success in running aged care facilities across Queensland and New South Wales.

“The most important thing to me in running an aged care facility is knowing that our residents are looked after in a holistic approach,” she says.

Eva has come such a long way and has helped so many people since leaving behind her homeland with those two suitcases 25 years ago. She remains passionate about nursing.

“When I need a little motivation or a reminder of why I became a nurse, I read my favourite poem, What it takes to be a Nurse,” she says.

“It’s a poem I read for the first time in 1994 when I was completing my nursing studies to gain recognition as Registered Nurse in Australia.”

Eva’s advice to other graduates is straightforward: “Follow your passion, love what you do, love your work and have a passion for humanity.”