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For the upcoming generation of health workers, some reasons for hope

Introduction by Croakey: Today marks the five-year anniversary of a group within the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) that is focused on addressing inequities in society and the public health sector, as well as within the organisation itself.

In a reflection published today by the PHAA, members of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Special Interest Group reflect upon the challenges they’ve faced, and describe what has given them hope along the journey so far, as well as their hopes for the work ahead.

It’s a timely segue into some wider reflections upon hope from a younger cohort, published below as part of a Croakey series.

Liv Dumville, a medical student at the University of Melbourne, put out a call on social media late last year, asking for young people who are working or training in the healthcare space to share their reflections on hope, looking back upon 2023, as well as the year ahead.

Below she publishes responses from eight interviewees, across diverse fields, all of whom are recent graduates or currently studying.


Liv Dumville writes:

Liv Dumville

Collating these interview responses from my peers and colleagues has been a wonderful opportunity to reflect on my own views of the healthcare system in 2023, and what I would like to see moving forward.

Much of what has given my peers hope in 2023, and what they hope for going forward, involves consistently providing compassionate and equitable care to patients across the board. It is so easy to get caught up in the politics and day to day minutiae of the healthcare system that we can be quick to forget that humanity is really what sits at the heart of great healthcare.

As my peers bring a new generation of healthcare providers into the workforce, let this be a reminder that it is not just our role to cure and fix, but to listen, care and show an open kindness to our patients that can sometimes be just as healing as a medical intervention itself.


Lived experience

Maddy Blake, psychology student at Monash University and Mental Health Support Worker

Q: What has given you hope in 2023?

A: One thing that gave me hope in 2023 is the ever-growing integration of mental health workers with lived experiences. In psychology we are learning how much wisdom people with lived mental health experience have to offer in regard to treatment, emotional support, and even facilitating hope for current clients.

The employment of mental health workers with lived experiences creates a beautiful circle of hope, where those who do become employed are instilled with hope surrounding their own lives and futures. They can then in turn instil this hope into their clients, who may be facing struggles that workers have identified with in the past.

For me, 2023 held a lot of openness and discussion about what people really needed in regards to mental health. At work, I’ve witnessed a much needed overhaul of the NDIS and what that means for the industry. My employer has welcomed the overhaul with open arms and immediately asked its employees “what do you think we can do better? What do you think we need to change?”.

I’ve also noticed an openness in my studies, where we have learnt broader perspectives on healthcare, with emphasis on the integration of approaches such as the biopsychosocial model or educators finally highlighting the importance of understanding the unique complexities of First Nation Peoples healthcare.

Q: What do you hope for in 2024?

A: All I hope for in 2024 is the continuation of growth and openness in the mental health and healthcare space. I think if we want the health of our ever-changing society to improve and remain on an upward trajectory, we need to keep questioning our current methods everyday with an open gentleness.


Communications

Gabriella Markov, Applied Linguistics student at the University of Melbourne and medical receptionist in general practice

Q: What has given you hope in 2023?

A: Communication barriers are a massive issue in the healthcare industry, both in terms of language and understanding differences in culture and health beliefs.

My professor started a workshop focussing on intercultural communication skills for the ophthalmology students at Melbourne University, providing insight into some of the challenges students might have to face and navigate in their future profession. This is slowly being prioritised in the training of other healthcare disciplines, and I really like it as I think it truly helps to facilitate the best possible quality healthcare for all patients.

Q: What do you hope for in 2024?

A: I’m really hoping that in 2024 and beyond there’s more emphasis and priority put on pre-professional and professional development for First Nations healthcare.

Doctors themselves can sign up for elective workshops, but it really needs to happen on an organisational and institutional level. There have been some good academic journal articles published about what needs to happen, such as developing more training that integrates lived experience and perspectives of Indigenous people, and I really hope this is prioritised. I also hope more positions for Aboriginal Liaison Officers are funded across the entire sector.


Grace and empathy

Husseina Juma, Registered Nurse

Q: What has given you hope in 2023?

A: In the Emergency Department this year I saw many patients looking for answers and looking to us, the healthcare workers, with what I guess you could describe as hope. This made me view hope in my role as a nurse differently – it isn’t something we give, it was something that we embodied.

Q: Have you noticed anything in 2023 that has been different in the healthcare industry?

A: The contrast between working in healthcare during the pandemic and now is huge. During the pandemic, everyone was scared, always three feet apart, always wearing masks. Now, everyone is a little more relaxed and less frantic when they develop flu symptoms. I’ve also noticed this year more and more healthcare workers acknowledging their burnout and stepping away for a break without guilt.

Q: What do you hope for in 2024?

A: I’m hoping that we can continue with grace and empathy as a community, where we care for one another and don’t forget that it really could be worse. I also hope that more people develop a deeper understanding of how lucky we are as country and how the level healthcare access we have, whilst a right, is simultaneously a privilege.


Collaboration

Tahlia Crossley, social work student at the University of Melbourne

Q: What has given you hope in 2023?

A: This year has been difficult and at times I’ve found it hard to be hopeful. However, my social work course itself has given me hope in the future of the healthcare system. I love the way it is taught and how critically reflective and aware of our own biases and systemic injustices and inequity that it encourages us to be. So in that sense it gave me hope that some graduates of this course might be able to make a positive change in the system, even if only for one person.

Q: What do you hope for in 2024?

A: I hope for more equitable access to mental healthcare and disability support. Access to mental healthcare and disability support is kind of like an island in a desert…only accessible to those who really reach breaking point or have extreme levels of need.

I hope that following the Royal Commissions we see ‘mid-tier’ community based supports become more accessible so that people can access appropriate care and services BEFORE their need increases to that requiring more intensive or inpatient services.

I also hope for more efficient and consistent multidisciplinary collaboration between medical professionals and allied health workers. Not only does it ensure more holistic and consistent support, it also provides invaluable opportunities for sharing skills and knowledge between and across disciplines and advancing the healthcare system as a whole.


Compassion and care

Aaron Ovadia, medical student at the University of Melbourne

Q: What has given you hope in 2023?

A: It may be surprising, but the experience that showed me the most hope was on a ward that some people may think would have the least hope –  the oncology ward. Cancer is often a terminal condition, and there are times when the dreaded words “We’ve done everything we can” are uttered.

Despite this, I was inspired by the humanity I observed on the oncology ward. Dying patients were listened to and comforted, and based on the appreciation that the patients showed, I realised that this is some of the most important work a healthcare team can do. It gave me hope that something as trivial seeming as an extra minute at the bedside could have such an impact on patients.

Q: What do you hope for in 2024?

A: My answer to this ties into what I’ve said above. I think often people get caught up in big fancy medical advancements like a shiny new $10 million dollar doodad. These are important as to remain on the cutting edge of medical care, but it’s also important to remember that providing healthcare is a human experience that requires compassion. I hope that people don’t lose sight of that.

I suppose an extension of that is with respect to the rise of Artificial Intelligence, something expected to play a huge role in medicine in the coming years. I hope this gives space for medical professionals to focus more on the human side of medicine.


Professional matters

Dr Lily Toussaint, clinical osteopath

Q: What has given you hope in 2023?

A: In 2023, my role as an osteopath opened new avenues for growth and responsibility. Exploring areas like rehabilitation consulting or administering physical assessments for Workcover provided broader perspectives beyond those in a traditional clinical setting. This expansion has fuelled my excitement and hope for a diverse career trajectory.

Q: Have you noticed anything in 2023 that has been different in the healthcare industry?

A: Observing the healthcare industry in 2023, I noticed shifts in the approach of new graduates. Their training and education experienced significant changes during the pandemic, leading to a decrease in confidence when treating and managing patients, particularly with hands-on skills. Despite strong clinical reasoning, there’s a noticeable tendency to focus either on musculoskeletal issues or severe conditions, with little in between. Furthermore, post-COVID, patients seem to be more financially conscious, impacting their spending on healthcare despite an awareness of associated health risks.

Q: What do you hope for in 2024?

A: My hope is for Osteopathy Australia to continue promoting the profession. Whether it’s in sports or expanding access to further education, promoting osteopathy’s diverse applications is crucial. Additionally, I hope we can address the financial barrier for osteopaths seeking diabetes education, where costs surpass those in other allied health fields. This would contribute to a more inclusive and supportive professional environment.


Making a difference

Natasha Bannon, occupational therapist (rehabilitation consultant)

Q: What has given you hope in 2023?

A: The main thing that gave me hope in 2023 was working with some really supportive health professionals (mainly GPs and physiotherapists), who listen and proactively care for their patients. Especially since I work with clients quite directly, I can really see how they are affected by different types of care.

Additionally, being there to support and assist a client from one of their lowest points in their lives (a workplace injury), whilst they navigate the healthcare system, increase their overall health literacy, and set up their treatment plans also reminds me of the direct impact we are able to have on patients’ lives, and reminds me of why I went into healthcare, as I get to see positive change happening.

Q: What do you hope for in 2024?

A: I hope that in 2024 health professionals continue to actively listen and work collaboratively with their patients, to provide the best possible care and support those who need it most.


Connections

Will McHenry, Medical Student at the University of Melbourne

Q: What has given you hope in 2023?

A: Being able to form connections with patients gave me hope for my own career as I believe this gives doctors the longevity to continue in this field, even when it gets stressful. This personal aspect also gave me hope in the benefits the healthcare system provides for patients. It’s hard to hear things in the news or by word of mouth about patients having negative experiences with the healthcare system, but being able to meet patients who are so grateful for their treatment and the interactions they receive in the hospital gave me hope.

Q: Have you noticed anything in 2023 that has been different in the healthcare industry?

A: I think 2023 was a difficult year as people are still readjusting post-COVID. Staff are sometimes unsure of the precautions that are meant to be taken and some patients don’t understand why these precautions are still needed.

Q: What do you hope for in 2024?

A: In 2024 I hope that staffing shortages for doctors and nurses start to improve. In doing this, I think we will be able to lessen negative patient experiences and provide better holistic care as a whole system.

I also hope that we can continue to promote inclusivity and diversity within the industry. While there have been advancements in the past decade, there are still lingering issues of discrimination in the healthcare system. Addressing this will allow us to continue bettering our system for staff and patients alike.


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