The local healthcare system has undoubtedly seen significant change in recent years and been the subject of much debate about standards and expectations. Various public health crises have spotlighted the need for tighter regulations and further investment in services and technology, but also made it plain that the budgets available to pay for new facilities and training additional staff are, as always, limited.
For a private medical institution such as Matilda International Hospital, the challenges have motivated the management team to reform certain working procedures and to put in place updated recruitment and personnel strategies. Linda Burgoyne, the hospital's executive director, communication and clinical operations, has been closely involved with these changes. "Since I started out as a nurse, I am able to see things from the perspective of the frontline staff and can help to develop a structured career path that leads from nursing into management roles," she says.
Despite growing up in a farming community and receiving little encouragement at school, Ms Burgoyne only ever wanted to go into nursing. Early experience as a midwife convinced her she had made the right choice when she saw the happiness that a life-changing event like giving birth could bring. She worked in a variety of nursing positions in the UK, the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong before joining Matilda as a midwife in 1991 and being promoted to managerial grade in 1997. "The major challenge then was to change my mindset and learn about the impact of finance on healthcare," she recalls.
In her current role, cost efficiency remains a concern, but Ms Burgoyne and her management colleagues, who all have a nursing background, share the common goal of maintaining the sense of care and service, while transforming the hospital's image. "In the early 90s, Matilda still came across to the public as colonial, expensive and rather unapproachable," she explains. "Over the years, there has been a 50 per cent increase in the number of local Chinese clients, and we have changed the concept of healthcare at Matilda by modernising the hospital and recruiting more international staff."
These changes in "corporate identity" have been accompanied by a conscious effort to raise standards. Matilda was the first private hospital in Hong Kong to obtain ISO classification and has made a considerable investment in improving conditions for staff by providing on-site accommodation as well as more emergency cover. "We had a clear goal of achieving the highest standard in both healthcare service and management, and the clinical accreditation our hospital received proves that to the public," Ms Burgoyne emphasises. "I have been very lucky to have the chance to collaborate on this and to live a dream in my professional life."
As she points out, local private hospitals have worked to gain clinical accreditation with the help of the Private Hospital Association. This is leading to enhanced levels of professionalism and also creating new career opportunities in areas like speech therapy, physiotherapy and radiotherapy for those with the relevant qualifications. "There is a global shortage of nurses, especially midwives," she adds. "At Matilda, we are therefore looking for more international recruits with solid experience."
While there are currently many good opportunities, Ms Burgoyne advises fresh graduates to get a start in public hospitals, where they will receive broader exposure to different facets of healthcare and be able to consolidate their theoretical knowledge. "Working in a public hospital introduces you to areas like major trauma management, which you may not have the chance to witness in a private hospital," she explains. "In contrast, we get to devote more time to individual patients throughout their stay, and are able to care for them with a personal touch."
While the pace may be slightly less hectic at a private hospital, Ms Burgoyne stresses that healthcare is a highly dynamic environment that is constantly changing. Frontline staff and management have to adapt rapidly to cope with events like the outbreak of an epidemic or a major traffic accident. "It requires us to stay practical and focused at all times, though we also have to keep a sense of perspective and learn not to take everything too seriously," she notes. "As nurses, we know how short life can be, so we plan for tomorrow but live for today."
Apart from having the necessary qualifications and a flexible approach, a real passion for healthcare is the most important attribute for anyone contemplating a long-term career in the field. "You need to have a real instinct for caring which comes from the heart because that is what drives you to go the extra mile," Ms Burgoyne says. "For example, our staff would speak to a patient in a coma as if she was hearing every word. That kind of caring makes a huge difference for the patient's family, and gives the utmost meaning to our role as medical professionals."
In good hands
- Experience in nursing can open up career opportunities
in hospital management
- Services and care for clients must be balanced with the
need for cost efficiency
- The approach must be practical and flexible to cope with
- Fresh graduates may gain broader experience by working
first in public hospitals
- Regular demand for nurses, midwives and specialists in
areas like speech therapy, physiotherapy and radiotherapy