My job: making a difference

Nancy McShane is a medical secretary at Hillmorton, an acute mental health hospital in Christchurch. She’s also a PSA delegate who is active in the campaign to improve conditions for hospital administrative staff, mainly women whose work is notoriously under-valued.

NancyMcShane 3In a high-stress environment, Nancy provides administrative support for a team of doctors, as well as nurses, social workers and occupational therapists. An important part of her job is to ensure patients’ admission and discharge summaries are complete and up-to-date.

“We process a large number of patients through here and that can generate a higher volume of documentation than in other services. Our doctors need support to make sure they keep on top of it or things can fall seriously behind,” she says.

Nancy says it can be a challenge, particularly for younger doctors who have to juggle their paperwork with study and work commitments. “It’s my responsibility to chase up anyone who is lagging behind and help them keep on top if it.  We must have an accurate patient history and I help to ensure the documentation is completed correctly and on time.”

Many hospitals struggle with heavy workloads and a chronic shortage of doctors and nurses. Hillmorton is no exception and Nancy is concerned at the toll it takes on clinical and nursing staff.

“For people who take up mental health as a career, there are some unique stresses and challenges. I can’t speak highly enough of the ones who do it for the long term – particularly here in Christchurch.

“The people I work with have a deep concern for people’s wellbeing but sometimes they can overlook their own. Some are still living in broken homes and battling with EQC. It’s a lot to ask of people over the long term.”

She thinks better use could be made of hospital administrative staff to alleviate some of the pressure. “Administrators help make our hospitals the warm, supportive environments they should be, but there’s still a wealth of knowledge and experience that could be tapped into and used far more effectively than it is.

“Many women take a break in their careers but when they return to the workforce, there’s little appreciation of the things they have done previously that could add value to their role. I think that’s a pity.”

At the same time, doctors and nurses are increasingly expected to complete more and more of their own paperwork. “I have to question whether it’s the best use of their training and skills,” says Nancy.

“They’re distracted from their time with patients because they have to do paperwork when there are people around them who could assist with that, and could follow things up for them.”

But the work of hospital administrative staff is under-valued and that’s reflected in their low pay and often poor conditions. It’s a typical example of pay inequity in a female-dominated occupation.

Times are changing though and administrative staff are being to challenge their low pay and the under-valuing of their work.  PSA members are about to launch a campaign – At the Heart of the Hospital  – to highlight the contribution administrative staff make to the smooth running of our hospitals.

Nancy says when she began working at the hospital five years ago, administrative staff had become quite cynical and didn’t speak up for themselves. “I’ve seen that change. It’s exciting to see people start to value themselves more.

“It’s very hard to make headway on some very serious issues at the moment and I think the PSA has a very good grasp of what these are.  I strongly believe the PSA is the only voice we have and more and more people are starting to realise that.”  


This article is from the December 2013 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.