A specialist in comforting kids
November 14 2012, 1:14 pm

The Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Nursing Development Scholarship offers a unique opportunity for a Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) nurse to undertake a period of international study and professional development in order to further develop their skills and expertise.

One recipient of the Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Scholarship is Lisa Takacs.

Born in Canada, Lisa graduated with a Diploma in Nursing and worked at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto until 2000. She then moved to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, England and in 2003 - pursuing a dream of learning to surf - she moved to Australia to take up a position with the Intensive Care Unit at the RCH.

Lisa was employed as Project Officer for the RCH’s Procedural Pain Steering Committee, which was set up to create concepts and ideas about how to improve the overall experience of being in hospital. A ‘pain review’ was undertaken in 2000, and it was discovered that patients, family members and staff were facing an enormous amount of difficulty when dealing with the distress, anxiety and pain associated with procedures and tests for the child.

The RCH’s first procedural pain management program, Comfort Kids, was started seven years ago. With goals to improve the patient experience, the program kicked off with an improved sedation program and increased access to distraction products, such as interactive books, stress balls and other toys.

At the same time as the RCH was launching Comfort Kids, there were similar procedural pain managementconcepts being developed internationally - but no others in Australia. There was a need to exchange ideas in order to ensure the RCH was implementing world’s best practice.

Being awarded the Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Nursing Development Scholarship allowed Lisa to travel to attend conferences and visit peer hospitals in the USA and Canada. The experience was inspiring.

Lisa says: “In Chicago, I attended a ‘Child Life Conference’, specifically focused on programs and tools to help children and families navigate in a stressful hospital environment. We saw a huge spotlight on a group of pain management specialists from Michigan who developed a program focusing on blood work and IV. We heard about the challenges and benefits of setting up this hospital-wide program. I subsequently followed them back to Michigan to observe in action.

“We shared some of our Comfort Kids concepts, and presented our family and adolescent survey data - it was a rewarding and reciprocal process.

“I then travelled to Minneapolis and attended the Paediatric Sedation Course. This particular course is highly sought-after - I was one of only four nurses who gained a spot - and gives participants skills that our RCH patients really benefit from. This course used a combination of theoretical sessions and simulation-based training. This model of learning allowed me insight into where we can take our own Procedural Sedation Program and education of staff in the future. I became formally credentialed as a Paediatric Sedation Provider from the Society of Paediatric Sedation.”

When Lisa returned to the RCH, she put her findings into planning and practice. A simulation centre is currently being developed at the RCH, including a simulation based sedation training program that will be integrated into staff education in the future.

Lisa explains how simulation training is important in best practice pain management: “It is hugely beneficial for staff to use simulation opportunities in a safe and supportive environment. Using a simulation centre ‘dummy’, you can allow staff to think on their feet to assess and react. As you can imagine, these are scenarios that you cannot replicate while working with actual patients.”

Lisa’s international experience validated her opinion that the RCH is leading the way in terms of introducing hospital-wide concepts, such as a distraction box program (there is now a distraction box in all 85 treatment rooms across the RCH), topical and local pain relief and the use of sucrose to minimize distress, pain and anxiety.

“What we have learned from my travels overseas has been, and will continue to be, integrated into our program and staff training. We now benefit from a more extensive international network where we can bounce ideas off each other. These are important networks that will provide the platform for future research and knowledge sharing.”

The aim of pain management training is to empower RCH staff to give the best possible care and to always minimise pain and distress, where possible, before, during and after any child’s experience in hospital. Lisa says it’s working: “Research shows that a child will often say; ‘yes, that was distressing and hard, but that nurse made it better because he or she helped me engage in a book or prepared me for what was happening’. This is what we are after. We are trying to help patients mange anxiety, fears and some of their discomfort. If we can achieve that, then most children can travel quite nicely.”

About Comfort Kids

Founded in 2007, the RCH’s Comfort Kids program provides education, mentorship, leadership and training in the area of pharmacological and non-pharmacological pain and distress management. Comfort Kids aims to support long-term sustainable practice and change in pain management culture, and provide the resources to enable clinicians to integrate pain management techniques into routine procedural care. Comfort Kids advocates ‘The best pharmacology is non-pharmacology’. Through appropriate and skilled employment of pain management and ‘distraction analgesia’, sedation then becomes the complimentary strategy rather than the primary approach. Comfort Kids is proudly supported by Woolworths through the Good Friday Appeal.

Support the wonderful RCH nurses by attending the Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Nursing Development Scholarship Lunch - Tuesday 26 March 2013.  Find out more here.