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December 2004 - Keeping in Step

It is the time of year once more when it behoves us to stop and review the year that is ending. How many of the goals we so confidently set ourselves a year ago have been attained? If not, were they realistic? Was the failure to achieve them due to circumstances within or without our control? What can we do to help raise the likelihood of achieving them next year?

Some may call this navel gazing but it is an important part of the process of Continuous Quality Improvement. Quality goes well beyond getting the right results for a patient. Staff welfare and training, reporting, timeliness and access to service, professional and personal development all form part of a quality environment. As I review the happenings of the year I see within the Society a dichotomy. I see on one hand the work of the Spirometry Guide and the spirometry course accreditation team, and on the other a failure on the part of many senior members regarding the quality of their abstracts. It was sobering that the highest-scoring abstract was written by someone who had never written an abstract before.

I have been going through this review process over the last few days and whist I like some of things I came up with I found more than a few things about which I was less than happy. I have been forced to wonder whether my vision is still in synch with that of the Profession as represented by our Society. I have long campaigned for the raising of the bar in our profession and for the recognition of respiratory laboratory staff as scientists and professionals. Recently I have had to consider whether this is in fact what the Society wants or whether I am out of step. Those with sensitive dispositions should read no further.

There are a number of issues here. First up is trying to determine the Vision held by the Society as a whole and by those senior members with a responsibility to lead the way. There are clearly sections of the Society who are as committed to the vision of professionalism and the pursuit of excellence as I am. My problem is that I am no longer sure that the Society as a whole holds that vision. Maybe it is simply that the older members of the Society are too tired to be bothered. I no longer have the confidence that my vision is the appropriate one. Am I out of step?

With regard to the abstracts, I found the overall quality particularly distressing. There were some excellent abstracts but far too many were lacking in quality. The Perth LOC have succeeded in getting our abstracts published for the first time. These abstracts will be the international window on our Society and we will be judged on them. Despite that, too many appeared to have been thrown together at the last minute with little effort to critique them or craft them. This speaks volumes about how the Society really feels about our Annual Scientific Meeting. When senior members can't produce quality then who is going to show the more junior members how to achieve it? Where is the pride in our work, in our Society? I take heart, however, from the excellent work that came from some of our junior members.

I have also been disappointed with the failure to elicit offers of cases for the Case of the Month and to help with the web-site. Is Case of the Month not of interest, nor a worthwhile use of the ether? Alternatively are those with suitable material not interested in sharing or just to tired to make the effort? As to helping with the web-site, if you never stick your neck out and take risks, you will never advance. This demonstrated lack of interest must mean that either people aren't interested in the site (access stats would argue that is not the case) or people just can't be bothered. I believe that with professionalism and recognition goes the responsibility of contributing to the life and activities of the Society. Once again, am I out of step with the vision of the Society?

The flip side to these negatives is the sterling work done by the Spirometry group. To have won the Health and Aging tender and then to deliver on time is an achievement from which we will all benefit both directly and indirectly. The importance of this achievement is only just starting to be felt. NAC are wanting to get involved in Spirometry training as a result of the same group's work on spirometry course accreditation. Trouble is that in order to get to the point of recognition this group called for a conviction and resilience they were able to muster. Staying there will require an even greater effort - not just from the group, but from EVERYBODY. It may take 1,000 steps to climb a mountain but only one misstep to fall to your death.

I am heartened too by the results of the Board Representative elections with new members coming on and particularly younger new members. We on the LOC have tried very hard to give younger, less experienced members opportunities to develop their skills in a wide range of areas. Some of these will work well; some may not. The important thing is to take risks and provide the support that will be needed. This is where senior members earn their keep through being available to advise, to encourage and to foster. Handing over the reins is not always easy, and the longer you have been around, the harder it gets. Fail to do so, however, and you issue a strong statement that you don't trust the next generation.

I have a great deal to be very thankful for. I am extremely proud of my small team here at Royal Perth. They are prepared to step outside their comfort zones and as a result they advance themselves and the Society at the same time. I have been blessed by very supportive regular contributors to the web-site - columnists and most Board Reps. For their efforts and commitment, I am truly grateful. There are a great many people in the Society who have achieved a great deal indeed and we are all a lot richer for their contributions. I feel honoured to work in their company. Living on past glories, however, is not enough. In particular we need the next generation to step into the breech, to milk us oldies for our experience and take the Society forward.

Much cogitation is required between now and the Perth meeting. Where to from here? I see two choices:

  1. Put the Scientist back into the Science
  2. Rebrand the Society as the Australian and New Zealand Society of Respiratory Technicians, ANZSRT - it does have a nice ring to it. Doesn't it?

Which is it to be?

Till next time,


December, 2004




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