Lessons from 46 years in health

Recently I attended the retirement celebration for Kathie Smith, Service Manager for ORL, Ophthalmology and Audiology.  The high esteem with which Kathie is regarded was demonstrated by the large turn-out of people, from all areas of our organisation.

Kathie has been working at CM Health for 46 years and during that time has helped shape the careers of many staff members fortunate enough to work with her.  Kathie has made a  major contribution  to the health of the wider Counties Manukau community and had a profound effect on the development and shape of our current and future health services.  To her credit she has helped make the Manukau SuperClinic and Surgery Centre the world class facility it is today.   While Kathie will be sorely missed, we wish her well for her retirement.   I’ll  now hand you over to Kathie to share her reflections of her time at CM Health.

As you read this I’ll be packing up my house in readiness for my move to the Bay of Plenty. I’ve recently retired from CM Health after 46 years and am in the process of renovating an apartment in Tauranga. The furniture moves in November and with it goes me, ready to re-establish myself in a new community and consider my next move. I was asked to reflect on my time at Counties and provide some thoughts and advice for the next generation, so here goes.

I’ve had a number of roles, which is one of the benefits of working for a big organisation like Counties. But even if you’re in the same role, nothing stays the same in health, change is constant and it’s important to go with the changes.

One thing that I’ve been incredibly grateful for is the fact that when you work in health you have transferable skills that allow you to work until retirement – it’s not so for all professions.

In the lead up to my retirement I’ve been asked about my favourite role and while I’ve enjoyed them all, my 20 years as a Charge Nurse in a rheumatology and orthopaedic ward were hugely satisfying. One of the unique and almost rare things today was the fact that we had a team of orthopaedic surgeons, rheumatologists and nursing staff that was stable for 20 years. We built up a trust relationship, and we each knew that whatever happened people were doing the best they could in the circumstances – it was very special.

In those days (1980s-90s) a three-week admission for rheumatology was routine, so we knew the patients and their families very well. We saw them grow up and deal with life particularly as many had regular readmissions. Our role was to create an environment where the patients trusted that we would do the right thing and give them the best care.

Towards the end of my time in this role, modern medicine stepped in and the access to medication that patients have now has dramatically changed lives; these people are no longer in hospital, they’re in community, working and taking medication. It’s an era that young people in health just don’t see today.

If I was advising my 25-year-old self I’d say if you like what you do, you can expect to get enjoyment from your role. Health is hard work, but there’s a huge satisfaction from doing your role well. I’d add to that: whatever you’re embarking on now in your career will not be the role you will finish your career in. The opportunities are immense. Look at the big picture and think of the role that you’re most suited for, the one that gives you the most satisfaction and uses your skills. Remember too that in 10-15 years there will be roles that we can’t even imagine now. Change is inevitable and in health it’s pretty constant.

And of course, at the centre of it all is the patient. The main thing my 46 years has taught me is that the patient doesn’t necessarily change as fast as the health system or the technology. The patient’s needs are universal and transcend quirks and fashion.

In my mind, when you’re dealing with patients the thing that is the most important is that someone cared. Someone listened and took the time to try and sort out the issue. I think it’s also important to remember that patients are human beings and they’re not perfect just as we aren’t. Nine times out of ten they will be tolerant of not having a perfect health care system, they can cope with things not being perfect provided we’ve taken the time to listen and care and where possible, go that extra mile.

The letters of thanks tell it all. We used to get letters of thanks from patients whose situation hadn’t gone entirely right, but they were still appreciative of the person who sorted things for them. Let that be our lesson.

Kathie and Geraint

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Author: Geraint Martin

Geraint Martin was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Counties Manukau DHB in December 2006. It is one of the largest District Health Boards in New Zealand and services a population of half a million. He has significant experience over 30 years in national policy & in managing both primary and secondary care . Previously, he was Director of Health and Social Care Strategy at the Welsh Government .He authored a radical 10 year strategy of reform, including the successful “Saving 1000 lives” Campaign.Until 2004, he was CEO at Kettering General Hospital & had held senior positions in London & Birmingham.He has worked closely with clinicians in improving clinical standards,patient safety,chronic disease management & managing acute care to reduce hospital demand.In NZ, He has promoted clinical quality and leadership as central to improving patientcare. This has led to a significant increases in productivity and access, whilst maintaining financial balance. CMH has completed in 2014 a $500 m capital redevelopment programme, the largest in New Zealand. A central part of this is the establishment of Ko Awatea,the Centre for Innovation and Research which will underpin CMH as one of the the leading health systems in Australasia.In 2008, he chaired the Ministerial Review of Emergency Care in New Zealand, and in 2013 was an member of the Expert Advisory Panel on Health Sector Performance. Geraint has an MSc in Health Policy from Birmingham University .His post-graduate work has focused on health economics and Corporate Strategy . He is adjunct Professor of Healthcare Management at AUT and Victoria University, Wellington Elected in 2006 as a Companion of the Institute of Healthcare Management, previously he was an Associate Fellow at Birmingham University.He is is Chair of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, a member of the Institute of Directors, on the Board of the NZ Institute of Health Management & previously the Board of The NZ Health Quality and Safety Commission.

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