Delivering health services in today’s challenging environment – where staff shortages and burnout are rife – is a balancing act for all providers, regardless of size. Yet, Vision Hospital Group (VHG) is forging another path, where its nurse teams are thriving rather than just surviving. And ophthalmic surgeons and patients are coming along for the ride.
VHG’s General Manager of Day Hospitals, Greg Brown, boasts an extensive 40-year tenure in the healthcare sector, granting him firsthand experience of industry transformations over the course of his career. However, one thing that has never changed is the need to look after your staff, he says.
Without a strong engine, it doesn’t matter… how many theatres there are, or what equipment you have – it will never reach its potential
“The engine of any day surgery is its staff, particularly the nurses. Without a strong engine, it doesn’t matter where your day surgery is located, how many theatres there are, or what equipment you have – it will never reach its potential.”
As a values-led organisation, prioritising staff is something VHG does well, Mr Brown says. In his experience, happy and respected nurses:
• create a positive workplace environment,
• have happier and more satisfied patients,
• have better working relationships with visiting medical officers (VMOs),
• are more efficient and productive,
• have more job satisfaction and interest in upskilling, and
• are less likely to burn out and leave the profession.
“The challenge the industry faces now is how to encourage nurses back to the healthcare system, while supporting current staff to avoid burn out. In my mind, keeping the lines of communication open and remaining flexible are key. We have a duty of care to protect not just our patients, but also our staff.”
Mr Brown says nurses offer valuable insights when given a chance to contribute. “VHG’s directors of nursing (DONs) know the ins and outs of their day surgery and their teams better than anyone else, and they have a vested interest in seeing it run well. They feel comfortable suggesting new ideas to us and to each other to improve efficiency, productivity, engagement, and risk management.
“And good energy is contagious. Internal and external feedback from VMOs, patients and auditors for VHG’s day surgeries consistently praises our workplace culture, expertise and professionalism, empathetic care, and communication.
“We are really proud of our growing reputation for operating high-quality ophthalmic day surgeries – it’s a true team effort.”
Of course, the proof is in the pudding.
Leadership and Professional Development
Gabriela Kalofonos, RN, PGCert OphNurs, AONA Industry Liaison is a DON at VHG’s Forest Rd Day Surgery in Sydney. Last year, she was selected for VHG’s LEAD (Leadership Enhancement and Development) Program. The 12-month initiative fosters the development of high-performing staff who display the potential to move into broader and more complex leadership roles. “I feel privileged to have been chosen for the program,” she said. “It was an amazing experience that helped build my leadership and communication skills.”
Since then, Ms Kalofonos has implemented a pilot program at Forest Road Day Surgery where post-discharge contact with patients who have undergone routine cataract surgery is completed by SMS, rather than a phone call.
“The goal is to assess patient acceptance and usability, and hence whether this is a feasible solution to relieve pressure on day surgery nurses.
“I was also eligible to apply for a research grant through the Future Vision Foundation – a not-for-profit initiative of VHG’s parent company, Vision Eye Institute. Staff who may not have formal research experience but have ideas to improve patient outcomes or healthcare experiences with clinical ophthalmology are encouraged to apply for these grants. I’ve always been interested in research but thought it wasn’t possible without studying for, or having, a PhD.”
VHG also actively supports its nurses’ professional development, such as through in-house education, financial assistance to attend conferences, and encouraging membership of peak industry bodies, says Ms Kalofonos. “Given we are a national network of ophthalmic day surgeries, it’s unsurprising that many of our nurses are members of peak bodies, such as the Australian Ophthalmic Nurses’ Association (AONA). VHG is also sponsoring the upcoming AONA Conference in Melbourne.”
Ms Kalofonos has been affiliated with AONA for 15 years and a committee member for the past five. “As Liaison Officer, I help organise clinical meetings and manage the social media presence. Membership is an excellent way to network with like-minded colleagues and access up-to-date, evidence-based education specifically created for ophthalmic nursing.
“I was lucky enough to be supported to join AONA early in my career. Now, I encourage all of my nurses to join. The VMOs who operate here really appreciate working with specialist ophthalmic nurses – we know how to support them in theatre, especially if things don’t go to plan, as well as how to care for their specific patients. It removes a lot of stress.”
The VMOs who operate here really appreciate working with specialist ophthalmic nurses – we know how to support them
Stepping Outside the Comfort Zone
Kila Lua RN, a DON, at PANCH Day Surgery Centre in Melbourne, says working at VHG has required her to step outside her “comfort zone”.
Since starting at Panch as a casual nurse when COVID hit, she said VHG has been incredibly supportive of her career development.
“We used to have a lot of agency nurses when I first started. As our team became more stable, no one wanted to leave – including me! After a stint as Panch’s first ANUM, I was encouraged to step outside my comfort zone and progress to a leadership role. The level of support and coaching in non-clinical areas – finance, quality, HR, leadership, marketing – is more than I could ever imagine.
“When I wanted to run a second ophthalmic theatre, they purchased another microscope and Centurion phaco machine for me. Now, both theatres are humming along. Everyone loves coming to Panch – staff, surgeons and patients. VMOs operate here to have their own dedicated specialist ophthalmic theatre team. For them, it’s simply walk in, gown up, scrub up and start their list. In the meantime, we’re having a laugh with the patients.”
Earlier this year, Ms Lua discovered All Health Training – a registered training organisation based in the same complex as Panch Day Surgery. “With VHG’s support, we have organised a partnership where students can complete their mandatory industry placement with us before they graduate as healthcare assistants. It’s a great way to give back to the local community and profession, while the extra set of hands takes pressure off our nurses. Many of our patients are elderly and enjoy a chat with the students. We are looking to roll this across other VHG sites.”
Ms Lua will be speaking about the value of healthcare assistants in an ophthalmic nursing setting at the upcoming AONA Conference on 18 June.
Working Together Across Australia
Despite being spread across Australia, Anne Sciacca RN, a DON at Windsor Gardens Day Surgery in Adelaide says they all enjoy working together to create educational and development opportunities for their nursing staff.
“Ideas are shared, and our nurses sometimes travel to a sister day surgery to observe lists and identify if there is a more efficient way to run things,” said Ms Sciacca.” The DONs are also in the process of creating a short course about ophthalmic nursing for all new VHG nurses to complete.”
Ms Sciacca particularly enjoys teaching and mentoring the next generation of nurses. After seeing an opportunity to get Windsor Gardens Day Surgery involved with nursing student placements, she didn’t hesitate to investigate further.
“Reports of nurses burning out and leaving the profession are heartbreaking because nurses underpin the healthcare system. I hoped to showcase our day surgery as a safe place to practise high-quality nursing within a supportive team – while still enjoying work-life balance.”
With the go-ahead from VHG management, Windsor Gardens Day Surgery now offers preceptorships in partnership with Flinders University. Students are supported by two clinical nurses and have direct communication with Ms Sciacca.
“Over eight weeks, they gain a range of clinical skills including developing and planning nursing practice, safe and responsive nursing care, and reflection on nursing practice. Then there’s the non-clinical aspects, such as how to communicate with patients, carers, staff, and other health professionals. Nothing compares to real-world experience!
“When collaboration and respect are championed within the workplace, it creates a wonderful sense of belonging and unity,” Ms Sciacca added.
Supporting the AONA Conference
VHG is a sector supporter at this year’s AONA conference, which takes place on 17 June in Melbourne. AONA Co-President Dr Heather Machin RN MBA PhD, said the Association was thrilled to welcome the organisation.
“It is so important to work with those at the coal face providing eye care,” she said. “This is the situation for many of our members, so connecting with their employers is vital if we are to improve access to nursing education and, in the longer term, attract and retain nurses in eye care. We have a shared goal to continue helping people who need access to eye care.”