I think we can all agree that 2020 has certainly shown us the unexpected. Pre COVID-19, our rural community in South West Queensland, like most of the country, has faced challenges. However, those challenges have proven that we are a resilient bunch. At the end of 2019, South West Qld was declared drought stricken for over the past 10years. While we watched on in horror, as parts of the southern country was burning, in February 2020 our community braced for flood. When you think life is finding some form of normality from drought, fire and flood …..the pandemic hits.
In May 2009, I started my journey as a medical receptionist. Having diligently worked my way up to Office Manager in 2012. I was offered the Practice Managers position in June 2016 and was appointed in July 2016. With this, I was motivated to become a student again and therefor commenced my BSB40215 Certificate IV in Business (Practice Management) to gain knowledge and develop skills to manage the operations of a general practice. Working full time and a being a mother to two children, I felt as though the freedom to study was perhaps behind me. Starting this journey with UNEP was the best decision I had made with the need to accomplish something for myself – proving to myself and to my family that I could achieve my goal. I completed the certificate in June 2017.
I recognise that learning is an ongoing process not only for my professional growth but also for my personal growth and achievements. Education to expand knowledge is rewarding. In 2019, I once again went into study mode with UNEP. I commenced a Diploma of Professional Practice Leadership with the hope to enhance my ability to perform key roles, delegate responsibilities to other team members and to also work effectively within an evolving primary health care environment.
As COVID-19 struck, my role changed overnight from horizon scanning and strategic planning to focusing on safeguarding the wellbeing of staff and patients. My action list changed on an hourly basis as more information and guidance were received daily. Like so many other parents around the country I was also figuring out how to juggle life. I was working full-time at the practice and home schooling my children whilst continuing to study. I won’t lie, the pressure was huge with the amount of extra responsibilities. Having a schedule was very important and helped. As a Leader, a mother, a student I knew I had to keep on keeping on, knowing that with the support from a fabulous working team, a united family, and the knowledge and information resources already gained from my studies that I would get through.
In March 2020, an early action for the leadership team was to set up a red zone to see patients suffering from Covid-19 symptoms in a separate building and a green zone for routine appointments within our main site. In the practice, we focus on core general practice, complex patients and others who require urgent care. Social distancing measures were put in place quickly within the practice. Waiting room chairs were moved to enable two-metre distancing and where possible, staff were allocated laptops and sent to work from home, whilst maintaining frequent communication with fellow staff members. Many measures were put in place to ensure our patients knew we were open and would continue to provide care to those who needed it.
Overnight, we transformed face to face consultation methods to almost full triage and telephone consulting. Videoconferencing was also offered to our patients but given our demographic we have patients either with no internet service or not very tech savvy with microphones and cameras to make effective use of this platform.
GPs and patients are adapting well to new methods of consultation. Is this something to be considered to adopt as a preferred option for a post Covid-19 world? The new normal for general practice is yet to be determined.
In May 2020, St George Medical Centre was the first of two GP-led respiratory clinics in South West to open its doors to support patients, locally and to the wider communities, dealing with symptoms associated with COVID-19, influenza and pneumonia. This Commonwealth Government initiative was a commitment to ensure our rural and remote communities have all the tools needed to keep COVID-19 at bay and the capacity to deal with cases if they emerge. The establishment of this dedicated respiratory clinic ensures GPs have a safe and efficient avenue to also attend to non-respiratory related needs of other patients. This reduces the risk of cross-infection with COVID-19 and Influenza.
To date South West Queensland have been very fortunate in remaining Covid-19 free. Patients, staff and the community have risen to this (pandemic) challenge. Our priorities, relationships with each other, relationships across the system and importantly, relationships with those we serve will have been reset during this period. Working together to find new solutions to new problems will be essential to determine a sustainable new normal.
Working in a busy practice means there can be a wide variety of tasks from day-to-day, which is one of the reasons I enjoy the job. In addition to the variety, I also enjoy the fast-paced environment and the inevitable multi-tasking that comes with that. The very best part of my job is my work colleagues. There is something about the type of people with whom you work and get to call family in a small rural practice: they are extremely nurturing and caring and, above all, take their jobs very seriously when dealing with people’s health needs and crisis.
I have learnt a lot throughout my journey of Practice Management, through my personal experiences, working in a team environment and the knowledge I have gained during my studies. From this I have come to realise that being a good leader isn’t simple, however practicing professionalism is, and it makes being a leader a whole lot easier. Professionalism and leadership are two distinct qualities that, I believe, all managers should possess with both requiring one key element – Respect.
And no matter what, through all the unexpected that life throws our way – drought, fire, flood, pandemic one thing is for sure – “We are all in this together”
I’d like to finish by saying if you’re thinking of studying again, don’t be limited. No matter where you begin, the sky’s the limit as far as where it could take you. As life is busy, online study through UNEP, gave me the opportunity to have a more flexible timetable. Good luck!
This article was written by UNE Partnerships, Aluma and current student – Peta Hart.
More information on our Practice Management courses can be found here.