Another reason we continue to celebrate nurses on May 12th

Each year on May 12th as I celebrate International Nurses’ Day I’m reminded of Florence Nightingale’s legacy.

All of us in society, whether we are nurses, patients or family, share a debt of gratitude to Nightingale for laying the foundations of nursing and establishing many of its principles we value today.Florence_Nightingale_monument_London_closeup_607

I was reminded of this recently when I visited the Nightingale Museum housed in the Selimiye Barracks at Scutari, Istanbul. It contains many relics from the Crimean War between Russia and the combined forces of Britain, France and Turkey. This war is remembered not only for the Charge of the Light Brigade but also for the terrible troop losses from disease which led to a Royal Commission into Military Hospitals. Florence Nightingale’s association with the Crimean War is also justly famous because of her attention to the nutritional and hygiene needs of the sick and wounded troops. She fought authority wherever she found it to be misguided. She made a difference.

I was able to visit this most historic museum when I travelled to Greece and Turkey to commemorate Australian and New Zealand nurses’ achievements during WWI. Like Nightingale half a century before them, the nurses of WWI skilfully cared for the physical and emotional needs of our wounded soldiers, and improved their survival rates so that many of these young men could return home and contribute to our growing society. In recent months, I’ve written more about this trip in the Journal of Perioperative Nursing in Australia and I’ve posted some photos on the NSWNMA Blog Nurse Uncut.

So this year, let’s all remember our debt of gratitude to Florence Nightingale for establishing what we know today as the profession of nursing and consider the many ways that nurses contribute to our society.

Would love to read your comments here about how you celebrate International Nurses’ Day – thanks for reading, Sally.

The journey begins

The journey begins at last. After many months of anticipation, reading, chatting, planning and farewells we are now followinFarewell from Greek Consulg the footsteps of the nursing sisters of WWI.

These photos were taken recently at the Greek Consulate in Sydney. Liz Kaydos of the Lemnos Assoc NSW is seen here with cruise organiser Clare Ashton and Dr Stavros Kirimis, the Greek Consul, and I appear in with the second pic below.

We are seen here discussing arrangements for the laying of wreaths for the Australian nurse buried in Thesalonica and for the New Zealand nurses lost at sea when the Marquette was torpedoed. Dr Kirimis told us about the additional commemorations planned by the Greek Consulate for the later in the year including the battle for Crete and evacuation of Australian troops during the Second World War. Farewell from the Greek Consul in SydneyThe third pic is from Sydney University School of Nursing, where Clare and I met Prof Donna Waters who was delighted to see us in the replica nurses’ uniforms. Bit too tight for comfort but they have incredible impact visually.Clare Ashton with Sally Sutherland-Fraser at School of Nursing History display, Sydney UniThe ANZAC nurses spent months at sea travelling via Fremantle, Colombo and the Suez Canal before the real hardships began. In the coming days, our greatest hardship will be navigating the sea of faces in crowded departure lounges and customs halls. Watch this his space for more posts and be sure to check out Clare’s Facebook page First World War ANZAC Nursing Sisters, as well as Dom Sheridan’s page Australian Great War Poetry. Bye for now, Sally.

Real ANZAC Girls

I’m heading off in search of the Real Anzac Girls, joining a 7-day cruise from Athens to Istanbul with a group of Aussies and Kiwis. Not being one for cruises, I am more than a little surprised by this, but this really is a cruise with a difference…

It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to commemorate the achievements of the Anzac nurses and to visit the WWI sites I have reReal Anzac Girlsad about in so many books, not least of which is Anzac Girls by Peter Rees. Some of you will have seen the TV mini-series based on Peter’s book. Or perhaps you have read Menna’s post from last year ANZAC GIRLS – WARTIME SOAP? If so, then you’ll have an idea of some of the places that we’ll be visiting. Iff not, here’s a quick itinerary:

Professor Christine Hallett of Manchester University and leading authority on First World War nursing will be on board delivering lectures throughout the cruise. We intend to lay wreaths to those New Zealand nurses who perished at sea when the SS Marquette was sunk by torpedoes. On 3 September, 30 of us dressed in replica WWI dress will land at the site of the Third Australian General Hospital on the Greek island of Lemnos to commemorate the ‘bag-piped’ arrival of the ANZAC nursing sisters of 1915.

I will be squeezing myself into one of the replica nurses uniforms for this re-enactment (donated by the producers of the mini-series – the tag inside the collar tells me that I will be wearing Elsie Cook’s replica uniform!). The photograph here will give you an idea of the moment we are re-creating. We expect to have a reception on ‘Turks Head’ that will include an official welcome from the Mayor of Lemnos. From here, we make land in Turkey, and visit the main Allied landing sites – Suvla Bay, Anzac Cove and Cape Helles. The itinerary continues with our passage through the Dardenelles. On arrival at Istanbul, we’ll be visiting the Florence Nightingale Museum in the Selimiye Army Barracks.

The purpose of the cruise is to draw attention to the sick and injured of the Gallipoli campaign and those who cared for them – the real Anzac girls, on hospital ships, on Lemnos and at bases in Salonika and in Egypt. The nurses on Lemons worked in unprecedented circumstances. Posted there to deal with the wounded of the battles we now know as Lone Pine and Chanuk Bair, those actions were already underway when they arrived to find their hospital supplies were delayed. They were ‘making do’, ministering to the wounded on stretchers, kneeling on the stony ground and using their own cups to give the men fluids. Day and night, they could hear the guns booming continuously on the Peninsula. ‘I could weep hysterically now it is over’ wrote Sister McMillan of Sydney in her first letter home two weeks later. The sisters of the Australian Army Nursing Service with the Third Australian General Hospital lived and worked in tents on the shores of Mudros Harbour, Lemnos for five months in 1915.

Well, it doesn’t get much better than that. Watch this space for more posts and pics from this cruise in the coming weeks. I understand that Antonia Prebble, one of the actresses from the Anzac Girls mini series will be on the cruise so that will be a brush with fame. She played the Kiwi nurse Hilda Steel – a real Anzac girl, who trained as an anaesthetist (with some success it seems), so I’m sure there’ll be some good stories about that! Bye for now, Sally.

There are a few berths still available for the voyage. If you would like more information contact Wild Earth Travel

The cruise organisers are indebted to the producers of the TV drama ANZAC Girls for the replica uniforms; as well as the Greek Consul General in Sydney and the Lemnian Association of NSW for their support. Photo credit: SLNSW Ref No. PXE 698.

Lister, Carbolic Acid & Alcohol– have we come full circle?

I recently received my annual Nurses’ League Journal from my training hospital, Kings College Hospital, London – the same one featured in one of my previous blogs on the TV show, ’24 hours in Emergency’. The League is essentially the ‘old girls’ association which we joined on completion of our training. The journal is full of news of us ‘old girls’, the reunions that have taken place and general news of the hospital’s activities. The journal usually features an aspect of the hospital’s history, a South London institution since the early 1800s. In this edition, the story of the eminent 19th century surgeon, Joseph Lister was featured. He is widely regarded as transforming surgery into a practice governed by science due to his pioneering work on antisepsis.

Joseph Lister

Joseph Lister

Why am I telling you all this? Well, at the time I was reading about Lister in the journal, I was also editing the chapter on asepsis and infection prevention for the forthcoming second edition of ‘Perioperative Nursing: An Introductory Text’, due for release in May 2016 at the ACORN Conference in Hobart. I was interested to read about Lister’s infection control practices in 1867 and how they contrast with our present day practice. He, like many of his contemporaries, were appalled and puzzled by the high rates of surgical site infections (SSI) which often led to post op death.
It was the work of French chemist of Louis Pasteur’s that influenced Lister’s thinking about what might cause infection. Pasteur had postulated that fermentation of wine and milk was due to bacteria found floating in the air and not just the air itself that caused infection, as had been traditional thinking. Armed with this light bulb moment, Lister’s next step was to experiment with a variety of antiseptic agents which he thought might kill the bacteria that infected surgical wounds. He settled on carbolic acid (phenol) after hearing about its success in cleaning up the city’s stinking sewers. He introduced it into his operating theatre at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Scotland, which must have been a most uncomfortable place to work as he sprayed carbolic acid over the operative field (and all the assistants) continuously during surgery and soaked dressings in the solution. His breakthrough moment came when treating a compound tibial fracture in an 11 year old boy, James Greenlees using dressings soaked in carbolic acid. After a few days there was no evidence of the usual infection that blighted such procedures and James made a full recovery.

Lister spraying carbolic acid during surgery

Lister spraying carbolic acid during surgery

Lister continued this type of wound dressing on other surgical patients and his post-operative infection rates dropped dramatically. If Lister had access to the internet, news of this dramatic breakthrough in infection prevention would have spread like wildfire and perhaps been accepted a little sooner, but it was two years before he published a number of articles about his work in the Lancet medical journal. Even then his results were viewed with a degree of scepticism, by many colleagues, particularly in London and it would be another 20 years of further experimentation before the medical profession accepted Lister’s theory and practical application of antisepsis.
Lister carried out much of his research at my old training hospital, King’s College, where he was appointed Chief of Surgery in 1877 and confronted many of his fiercest critics. The hospital had prohibited open surgery into joints due to the high risk of infection, but Lister believing in his antisepsis methods bucked the system (after all he was the boss!), forging ahead with his work, which eventually paid off, laying the foundations for our modern understanding of antisepsis and ultimately aseptic technique.

operating theatre at Kings College Hospital, London

operating theatre at Kings College Hospital, London

Even though we have come a long way since Lister in our understanding of antisepsis and infection prevention, SSIs are still of great concern in the 21st century. Hand washing continues to be a vital strategy in the fight to reduce the risk of infection and what struck me about surgery in Lister’s era, the late 19th century was the use of alcohol as a hand hygiene product. Three to five minutes pre-operative cleansing of the hands using 90% ethanol was common practice amongst surgeons of that era. The efficacy of alcohol to kill microorganisms on the skin has therefore been known for sometime and with the recent introduction of alcohol based surgical scrub solutions (ABSS) in many Australian operating theatres, it feels like we are back to the future!
Moving to ABSS will require a change of culture in our operating theatres – the ritual of the surgical scrub is one which many instrument nurses may be somewhat reluctant to give up – that five minutes or so at the sink was good thinking time when you could gather your thoughts and prepare yourself mentally for the procedure ahead. Replacing that with a 90 second rub with alcohol based product will not come easy to some! For the surgeons too, it is a big change, although having witnessed some surgeons undertake what passes for a surgical scrub by a momentary waving of hands under running water, an application of alcohol will at least kill a few bugs!

Alcohol based surgical scrub

Alcohol based surgical scrub

Many of you have perhaps already been involved in trialling the variety of ABSS products that medical companies are now clamouring the sell us. It’s big business for them! What’s important is to ensure that we make choices based on available evidence of the efficacy of the products and not the hard sell and promises of the company reps. There are many different products on the market –some containing differing percentages of alcohol and those that combine alcohol with other antimicrobial products eg chlorhexidine. Which one to choose? Don’t be afraid to ask the reps for research evidence to back up their claims, but it’s also important to do your own independent research – there is plenty out there and World Health Organisation has some good resources too.
It seems we have come a full circle in the 150 years since Lister first laid the foundations of infection prevention with the introduction of ABSS in the 21st century. It will become one more strategy we can use to reduce the risk of SSIs that continue to be a cause of morbidity and mortality in our hospitals.
Let us know if you are using ABSS in your workplace and how this new procedure is being received.
Bye for now

From Postie to PEPEN: A Water cooler conversation

We were delighted to receive these words from Mark Quealy recently in response to “Where are they now?” on our Water Cooler page.


It’s never too late to take up nursing. At 46 years old & a postman in Kahibah NSW, I was encouraged by several nurses on my run (identified by their LAMP subscriptions I was delivering) to consider nursing. An inspiring Trainee Enrolled Nurse (TEN) program closely followed by the very supportive 12 month Perioperative Education Program for Enrolled Nurses (PEPEN) based at Prince of Wales Hospital in July 2005. I never would have believed that I was capable of working in theatres if it wasn’t for the multitude of mentors on the way. I have since completed my Bachelor of Nursing, thanks in part for the persuasion from preceptor Beth Mangelsdorf but mostly my wife who had more confidence in my aptitude than I was capable of. I am very happy working in the many & varied specialties at Randwick Campus Operating Suite with a truly inspiring bunch of colleagues. I hope I can encourage others to aim for what seems impossible initially.

Mark Quealy

What a great journey and thanks for sharing this on our website Mark! It’s an inspiring story about the empowerment of education and influence of mentors (and wives!).

Menna and I have known Mark since 2005 when he was selected for a place in PEPEN No.1.

But I’m getting ahead of myself!

Ms Deb Thoms presenting Certificates to PEPEN graduates 2003

Ms Deb Thoms presenting Certificates to PEPEN graduates 2003

PEPEN No.1 and Mark’s group followed the successful PEPEN pilot in 2003, which produced seven graduates and was a catalyst in establishing an advanced practice role for the Enrolled Nurse instrument nurse in New South Wales.

These photos from the Pilot graduation in 2003 show Ms Debra Thoms (then Area Director Of Nursing for South East Health) as well as Amanda Gore (Pilot Project Officer) with Invited Speakers Rebecca Roseby (then ENPA Representative) and Menna (then NSW OTA President) with me tucked in the middle – feeling very proud of the graduates and the large team of educators and managers who worked with Amanda and me to facilitate this area-wide project.

PEPEN Pilot key personnel and guest speakers with Graduates

PEPEN Pilot Graduation 2003

Two years later following changes to Enrolled Nurse education in New South Wales, the PEPEN no. 1 cohort in 2005 were all – like Mark Quealy – newly qualified medication-endorsed ENs, and keen to embark on a career in the operating suite.

This pic (below right) shows Mark during a PEPEN clinical teaching session facilitated by Graham Hextell (PEPEN Project Officer 2005-2008) at Prince of Wales Hospital.

Mark Quealy with Lily Peng and Hazel Poon and other students of PEPEN No 1 in 2005.

Mark Quealy with Lily Peng and Hazel Poon and other students of PEPEN No 1 in 2005.

He’s with PEPEN colleagues Anne Faulkner (left), Lily Peng and Hazel Poon (right), whose perioperative nursing careers have also thrived under the supportive team at the Randwick Campus Operating Suite, where until recently Menna has been the CNC.

In the decade since PEPEN, Mark has also found time time to be a local representative for NSW Nurses’ Association in his workplace. What a varied and satisfying career path!

As Mark says “I hope I can encourage others to aim for what seems impossible initially”.

If you’ve got an interesting story to tell about your career path or you’ve worked with us in the past, we’d love to hear from you again! Get in contact with us and we’ll post your story (and pics) too.

Bye for now and very best wishes for the festive season, Sally.

Times Past – Future Views

During my trip to UK, I visited the Old Operating Theatre of St Thomas’ Hospital which is tucked away on the top floor of an English Baroque church near London Bridge (Southwark, London) and adjacent to the famous teaching hospital Guy’s (St Thomas’ Hospital having moved to a new location in Westminster). I had seen photos of this operating theatre and although I was brought up in London, had never had the opportunity of seeing it first hand.OR at St Thomas' Hospital

The operating theatre is the oldest surviving theatre in Europe, dating back to 1822 and was used until 1860. Its location is rather odd, being on top of a church, but the wards of the old St Thomas’ Hospital were built adjacent to the church. The theatre was only rediscovered in 1956 and underwent an extensive refurbishment allowing it to be opened as a museum exhibiting a number of surgical artefacts and pharmacological potions. Whilst viewing the exhibition, it struck me that although we are nearly two hundred years down the track, many of the instruments on show looked remarkably familiar – a sigmoidoscope, Sims speculum, birthing forceps, assorted other surgical instruments. The operating theatre itself is of course drastically different, as you can see it is set up with a viewing gallery to accommodate the budding surgeons of the day, all jockeying to get the best view of the latest surgical techniques – hence the term ‘theatre’. But unlike today’s modern surroundings this theatre has a crude wooden table with a tray of sawdust underneath ready to catch the blood. Blood stained aprons hung near the door with a mirror so the surgeon could clean himself of blood spatters. The bowl was available for the surgeon to wash his hands after surgery rather than before! Anaesthesia and antisepsis were still some years away, therefore the procedures undertaken were very limited. Amputation was one of the most common procedures performed and surgeons vied for the reputation of being the quickest – often asking a member of the audience to time them. One such surgeon was Robert Liston who in the mid 1800s, it is claimed, carried out an amputation of the leg in 25 seconds! He also, so the story goes, accidently sliced off the poor patient’s testicles too!

In a hundred years time, will someone stand looking at our current operating theatres and wonder how we worked in such conditions? What will the operating theatre of 2114 look like and how will surgery be different?

Our operating theatres may cease to exist in their current configuration and may look more like high tech radiology suites. We will see more minimally invasive surgery using technologies such as those currently being trialled eg High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU) and Magnetic Resonance guided Focused Ultrasound Surgery (MRgFUS). These technologies can be used for a variety of procedures including treatment of uterine fibroids, metastatic bone tumours, Parkinson’s disease with patients likely to be walk in/walk out same day surgery. Surgery may be undertaken by robots operated by surgeons located remotely. 3D printing is already being used in innovative ways and I am sure in the future we will see prostheses being made to measure within the operating theatre! I came across this information in an interesting blog on the ACA Research website describing the modular operating room at QEII Jubilee Hospital, Brisbane – The Operating Room of the Future OR at John Flynn Hospital

Where does this view into the future leave perioperative nurses?   Will we survive this technological revolution? We will need to reinvent ourselves using new skills and knowledge to care for patients in this brave new world. With National Perioperative Nurses Day fast approaching on 12 October, it is a perfect opportunity to consider our current and future roles. Many of us won’t be around to see the new technologies and innovations, but we can think of ways in which we can lay the foundations for the next generation of perioperative nurses to meet the challenges of the future.

What are your thoughts on the future of surgery, operating theatres and of course perioperative nurses? Get in touch and tell us what you think.

Back to Australia next week, so til then….