Sara Panozzo oversees one of our busiest outpatient clinics at Peter Mac. The Outpatient Pathology and Specialist Clinics see up to 850 patients per day. This means Sara’s day-to-day responsibilities are wide-ranging and include quality improvement, business management, recruitment, OH&S, risk management, clinical work and education. In the lead up to International Women's Day, Sara shares how her dedication to continuous improvement, collaborative and consistent practices, and open-mindedness, and her passion, has led her to the work she is doing today. #PressforProgress #IWD2018.

What attracted you to nursing? 

I was undertaking an arts degree at Melbourne University majoring in Italian and Criminology units, but I was unsure of my career path. Melbourne University was introducing a new undergraduate nursing degree and this interested me because I liked the idea of helping people and working in a team environment. I switched degrees and haven’t looked back.

You started at Peter Mac as a graduate nurse. Can you tell us about your path to Nurse Unit Manager?

During my undergraduate nursing degree, I completed a placement at Peter Mac and I knew this was where I wanted to work. Fortunately, I was successful at gaining a graduate position. After two years developing my leadership and clinical practice skills, I accepted an opportunity to become Associate Nursing Unit Manager, and later the Nurse Unit Manager (NUM) in a job share role. These experiences were instrumental in developing my knowledge of leadership, escalation of patient care, workforce and staff management, and clinical safety and risk management.

I was fortunate to be involved in Peter Mac’s historic move to Parkville before becoming Project Improvement Facilitator with Peter Mac's Building Better Care team. These roles taught me the fundamentals of implementing and sustaining change, and quality improvement.

Becoming Outpatient Pathology and Specialist Clinics NUM was a big change – and a steep learning curve – but I am very glad to have this opportunity. I am part of a dedicated and hard-working team, and have developed new business, decision-making and managerial skills.

Can you tell us about a woman who has positively influenced your career in some way?

Finding the right mentor can be instrumental in career development. I have been fortunate to work with many inspirational female leaders who have motivated me, shown me the next step in my career path and supported me through the challenges associated with new leadership roles.

Working with Danielle Murray, Manager and Lead Improvement Advisor at Peter Mac, I learnt the importance of relationships, intelligence, being influential, having clear patient- and staff-focused outcomes, and using creativity to solve and approach problems in a positive and inclusive manner.  

While working at Western Health, the NUM of Chemotherapy Day Unit, Angela Mellerick, mentored me, saw value in my experience and knowledge, gave me autonomy and encouraged my development in the role of Nurse Coordinator in the Symptom and Urgent Review Clinic. The skills I developed in this role have been valuable to role I am in today.

What are you most proud of in your career?

At Peter Mac, we strive to provide a high standard of patient care for all of the patients and their families. Knowing that my team can make a difference to a patient and their family is what makes me most proud.

Further to this, I feel proud of what I have been able to achieve with my team when I’ve been pushed outside my comfort zone. It’s been a challenging transition to my current role as Specialist Clinics NUM but working with the team, and developing a culture where everyone’s experiences and opinions are valued in order to implement change. This has helped us to thrive, despite growing activity and acuity of clinics. In pathology, we’ve improved wait times and the quality of our services for patients. I’ve learnt that if you want to deliver real improvements, you need to build a successful productive, accountable team, and I think we’ve done that.

What would you say is your most valuable personal attribute that has helped you succeed?

First and foremost, it is important to be empathetic, not only towards patients and their families, but also with team members and colleagues. Being empathetic is essential to ensure everyone feels supported, safe and cared for, while concurrently developing collegiality, morale, loyalty and productivity among the team.

Viewing education as an ongoing process is one of my core beliefs. I continually strive to upskill my knowledge, through professional learning, networking, and undertaking formal and informal education. This includes reading, post-graduate studies and conferences, talking to people and learning from the experience of our patients. I take great pride in the work that I do, and feel fortunate to have always worked in a field that I am passionate about.

What would you say to someone considering pursuing a career in nursing?

The traditional way we think of the role of a nurse is often so different from the reality of nursing today. Nursing really is an exciting and dynamic career – there are so many different directions to take a nursing career, so many opportunities for you to excel. I feel fortunate to work for an organisation that empowers women in leadership roles and urge those considering a career in nursing to pursue their interests and know that they can achieve anything they set out to do.