Rehabilitation nursing brings the team together

Specialist Rehabilitation Service Nurse Unit Manager Colleen Fossey says when she chose to take on her current role four years ago she knew she would be in for a challenge but the daily rewards blew her away.

12 Aug 2022

Colleen started as a registered nurse at St John of God Mt Lawley Hospital in 2010 (the hospital was then named Mercy Hospital and St John of God Health Care acquired it in 2014), and was later promoted to clinical nurse with her focus on medical and surgical nursing. Colleen Fossey, Nurse Unit Manager at St John of God Mt Lawley Hospital's Specialist Rehabilitation Service

She had started her leadership journey after completing a Diploma in Leadership and Management, with support from the hospital, and then took up an opportunity to work at St John of God Midland Public and Private Hospitals.

An opportunity to work as the Nurse Unit Manager at Mt Lawley’s rehabilitation ward was too good to pass up.

“I didn’t know anything about rehabilitation, but I had a great nurse manager who was always supportive and encouraged me to apply,” Colleen said.

“I was given the Acting Nurse Unit Manager role, where I learned as much about rehabilitation nursing as I possibly could.  The learning curve was very steep and the hours long, but my perseverance paid off and I was appointed to the position permanently.”

Having spent the majority of her nursing career caring for patients undergoing plastic, reconstructive, ear, nose and throat, gynaecological or gastric procedures, the change to rehabilitation was significant.

“I think the main difference in rehabilitation nursing is that we need a broader knowledge base about more types of presenting medical issues and surgical procedures,” Colleen said.

“On top of that is some specialty training that is specific to rehabilitation which is focused on helping us teach and encourage patients to become more independent and safe in what they do.”

Colleen said it was the connection with the patients that was the most rewarding aspect of rehabilitation nursing.

“You get to know the patients and often their families on a much deeper level.  We strive to get patients back to their pre-admission baseline or better, using the multi-disciplinary team to achieve the patients set goals,” she said.

“Our patients often arrive feeling defeated and vulnerable, but with some encouragement and the right team input, we see them grow with confidence and become enthusiastic about their therapy sessions.

“In the acute setting, there isn’t usually enough time to be able to spend with the patient to achieve the type of change that they want or require to get back to their best.”

One of the other highlights of rehabilitation nursing is ability to use specialist skills and knowledge to support patients and work closely to so many other health care professionals.

“Rehabilitation is a specialty and rehabilitation nurses need to be acknowledged and know that what they do each and every day is not a normal day for most nurses,” she said.

“The best part of working in rehabilitation would have to be the collaborative approach by so many professionals from so many different backgrounds.  Where one patient may just need two or three different services, another may require seven or eight depending on the complexity of their admission, discharge goal and the amount of improvement required in their recovery as they move along the rehabilitation continuum.

“The camaraderie of the team and the laughs we have along the way makes all the hard work worth it.”