Shaping patient-centred care: The journey of Carol Burnett at Northern Health

February 22, 2024

Northern Health is committed to delivering patient-centred care. Partnering with consumers is central to ensuring that our patients and their carers are at the core of all the work we do.

Standard 2, known as the Partnering with Consumers Standard, is about fostering a collaborative relationship between healthcare providers and those we serve. This means involving consumers in the planning, design, delivery, and evaluation of our services. It’s also about empowering patients to be active participants in their own care, giving them a say in decisions that affect them.

Today, we’re excited to share the story of Carol Burnett. Carol is not only a retired nurse, teacher, educator and manager, but also a dedicated volunteer at Northern Health since 2019. She’s currently a valuable member of our Consumer Participation team, where she continues to make a difference in shaping our approach to patient-centred care.

Q: Tell us about your professional background and some of the roles you’ve had throughout your career?

A: I have had a range of careers, starting as a nurse in 1965. I gave up nursing to raise my two children and during that time studied to become a teacher/librarian. I taught for a while and then moved into adult education, and finally management. One of my roles was CEO of Volunteering Victoria – the peak body for volunteers – and I was a manager at The University of Melbourne for 10 years and La Trobe University for 15 years.

Q: What is your relationship to Northern Health and how did this begin?

A: I started as a Volunteer in 2019 and was a guide for a while, before moving to various admin tasks. I then commenced driving patients to their outpatient appointments. COVID struck and the driving program had to cease. When we were allowed to resume, I started driving at the Bundoora Centre and I do this two days a week.  I also participate in the Standard 2 Committee.

Q: Why do you think it’s important to be involved in Consumer Participation and in what capacity do you contribute to the team?

A: Volunteering has been a big part of my life for over 40 years, and I have been on numerous committees. As for taking part in Consumer Participation, I felt that I had the skills and the willingness to volunteer my time. I have always believed that it is more important to be part of the solution, than be the person that complains about issues within the health service. Consumer Participation allows people to do exactly that – be part of the solution and give feedback from a different perspective.

Q: You provide valuable insights to Northern Health because of your lived experience. What does it mean to have ‘lived experience’ and how do the insights you share make a difference to the health service?

A: There is a definition that lived experience refers to the first-hand involvement or direct experiences and choices of a given person, and the knowledge that they gain from it, as opposed to the knowledge gained from second-hand or mediated source. This fits with what I believe, and decisions made by Northern Health about consumers should always include the consumer’s viewpoint, which can often be different than those making the decisions. The National Safety and Quality Health Service (NSQHS) has set standards which Northern Health has adopted, and I believe that if you have a standard, you need to be proactive in addressing the issues. Being part of the Standard 2 Committee enables me as a consumer to be proactive.

Q: Tell us something not many people know about you?

A: When I was sixteen – a very long time ago – I lied about my age so that I could be a dancer at a St Kilda nightclub. My “career” only lasted for three weeks, as my brother saw me and told the manager my real age.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

A: What I find interesting is that the past can have an influence on what we do today. My great aunt was a nurse at the Launceston General Hospital in 1908 and was involved in an incident that impacted on the patient’s wellbeing. My book on the subject has just been published, and the hierarchy of the day shows the huge gap between the way hospitals are run today and the respect and rights given to consumers.