Chicken soup for the nursing soul – HESTA nursing awards finalist Sheila Salonga

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If Epworth Richmond Hospital nurse unit manager Sheila Salonga could write a book, it would be called “Chicken Soup for the Nursing Soul”.

The 1994 bestseller, Chicken Soup for the Soul, has become something of a guiding light for Sheila, who has been named as one of the finalists in the 2019 HESTA Australian Nursing and Midwifery awards.

“I love that book,” Sheila said.

“Each Friday, I send out a list of reminders to the team – well, it’s a bit boring and no-one wants to read that, so at the start of my Friday reminders, I write a little story to my team, based on what I call ‘Chicken Soup for the Nursing Soul’.

“In the first one I ever wrote, I asked all my team that when they come to work, to ask themselves, ‘whose life am I going to touch today?’

“Because that’s what we do – we do touch people’s lives. And in any job, it’s easy to get stuck on repeat, but I try to consciously remind myself and my team, ‘whose life are you going to touch today?’”

For someone who clearly loves nursing, caring for patients and staff, it’s funny to discover that Sheila did not want to be a nurse. Twenty-one years into her career however, and she has had a change of heart.

“At first, I didn’t want to be a nurse!” Sheila laughed.

“I am from the Philippines and there is an expectation there, from your parents, that you become a nurse and the goal is to go overseas to work – particularly the US.

“So my parents wanted me to be a nurse and I thought, why not. And then, when I started work, I found that I loved it.”

Sheila worked in the Philippines for two years, followed by an 11-year stint in Singapore where she worked in all areas of nursing, including intensive care. Following some post-graduate studies, she was recruited to Epworth Richmond, in Victoria.

“For me, it’s about my ability to help people – it sounds like a cliché,” she said.

“But really, I’m not doing anything special, apart from my job.”

Sheila’s colleagues would disagree. While working as the acting nurse unit manager at Epworth Richmond’s intensive care unit (ICU), Sheila created a number of “activities” designed to help and support staff.

The hospital’s executive director, Nicole Waldron, said the award nomination recognised Sheila’s efforts to build an inclusive team culture and improve patient care outcomes.

“By leading with example, Sheila created employee recognition programs for staff that rewarded their work, with the delivery of care to patients always front of mind,” she said.

Sheila introduced a ‘pay it forward’ initiative, encouraging staff to help each other out; a staff member of the month award; and cultural days to celebrate the team’s diversity.

She also encouraged staff to share ideas and provide feedback on how patient care could be improved.

“When I first became a manager, I struggled a bit because I loved being with the patients so much and I thought, ‘how can I give back now?’” Sheila said.

“But all the staff, they started to come to me with their issues and I was able to help them. I know all 140 staff members (at the ICU) and I know something about each one.

“So, that is the thing I love now – being able to help and support the staff.”

Sheila’s initiatives led to a reduction in employee sick days, greater staff retention and an increase in worker engagement, while there was also a drop in the number of patients experiencing injuries.

“The ICU is a high-pressure environment, it’s a stressful job and in my experience, there’s always a lot of sick leave,” Sheila said.

“We have a 26-bed ICU, the patients are very ill and the staff need to be appreciated.

“The staff there are happy and they are coming into work because they love it and they love to see their colleagues – not just to do their job and get paid. They’re a cohesive team.

“It’s vital for co-workers to respect each other and to thank each other.”

Despite her appreciation and hard work on behalf of her team, Sheila said she had no idea how much she personally was appreciated, until she was nominated for the award.

 “I was shocked, really, to be nominated because I was just doing my job,” she said.

Now nurse unit manager at Epworth Richmond’s emergency department (ED), Sheila said she thought of the nomination as “a beautiful parting gift from everyone” in the ICU.

The awards will be announced at a dinner on 9 May 2019, with the winner receiving $10,000 for further education or team development.

“I’m not expecting to win, I’m just happy to go and be a finalist,” Sheila said.

“I really feel like I am already a winner, but if I do win, I’ll split the money between the ICU, the ED and myself.”

Sheila is one of four nominees shortlisted for the Nurse of the Year category.

“I’m truly humbled to be nominated and chosen as a finalist,” she said.

Read more: Epworth nurse shortlisted for prestigious HESTA award

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