What is the Nursing Odyssey Programme?

Posted on 7 May 2019

Yolanda Walsh explains how Mediclinic is working to improve the standard of clinical nursing care in South Africa. The goal: a culture of nursing expertise.

“Nurses play a number of vital roles within Mediclinic hospitals. The Nursing Odyssey Programme is designed to help them – we want to constantly improve our standard of care.”

Every International Nurses Day, Mediclinic celebrates the role nurses play in providing expert care in hospitals across the country. But these efforts extend far beyond these celebrations, says Yolanda Walsh, who heads up the Nursing Odyssey Programme.

Mediclinic has long placed a major focus on nursing expertise at its hospitals. For example, almost 30 years ago, Mediclinic became a registered teaching institution to address a shortage of theatre nurses in South Africa. The Nursing Odyssey Programme is another product of this focus.

The programme was born out of a need to ensure optimal clinical outcomes, says Walsh. “We identified a few shortcomings in our nursing expertise, and we were concerned that if we did not address these, the standard of our care would be affected. So we set about investigating the conditions our nurses were working in.”

The investigative team, led by Dr Estelle Coustas, started the Nursing Odyssey Familiarisation Project in 2013. “We spoke to everyone, from recently retired nursing managers to young nurse leaders in the organisation. We generated 18 investigative reports, and we asked: What is the state of nursing in Mediclinic SA right now, what are the barriers hindering expert nurses and what can we do to improve that?”

The answer came in the form of a proposal: the Nursing Odyssey Programme, tasked with complex system change, would identify and help address any major failings within the system that compromised the standard of care Mediclinic nurses were able to provide.

“The quality of our nursing care is very important to us,” says Yolanda Walsh, manager of the Nursing Odyssey Programme. “A decade ago, South African nurses were renowned for their expertise and many Registered Professional Nurses were recruited by hospitals in other countries – contributing to a significant shortage of expert nurses. We also find that the public are unaware that there are different nursing categories, and that nurses have very different capabilities, responsibilities and specialisations. There is perhaps a perception gap: people often misunderstand or under-appreciate the value our nurses bring to our continuum of care.”

At a Nursing Summit in 2017, the programme invited management teams from 10 hospitals, as well as three supporting doctors from each facility, to openly discuss concerns and realities that had an impact on nursing expertise.

They then settled upon nine priorities, and began working on the first two: to ensure a nursing working environment optimised around safe staffing and an optimal mix of skills, and to empower all nursing unit managers in the group.

In order to achieve these directives, the programme has developed and refined set guides to optimise the recruitment, development and assistance to nursing unit managers. “We’ve put a lot of work into improving the effectiveness of our nursing procedures. For example, our Recognise & Rescue Deteriorating Patients initiative focused on identifying at-risk patients, clarifying the roles of the different nurses in the teams, and improving our reliability in responding to abnormal vital signs.”

That particular initiative played a role in improving the hospital group’s in-hospital patient mortality index, Walsh says – and is an example of how small but vital improvements in nursing standards can affect the treatment and experience of Mediclinic patients.

Up next, the programme aims to implement an effective nursing mentorship system, and institute initiatives to improve teamwork, collaboration and communication within units and across hospital departments. “We are looking at extending these steps beyond the nursing teams – we want to bring administrative staff and doctors into the process so that we are working as one to deliver expert patient care.”

Walsh says the goal of the programme is simple: to develop and maintain a comprehensive, sustainable working culture of providing expertise you can trust. “We need our nurses,” she says. “This is an incredibly complex and vital role that is not always well-understood. We want to make sure they are appreciated and respected, and we need to make sure they have what they need to the best job that they can.”


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