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Becoming an Ear Nurse – by Shelley Straw

Medicine, Nursing, The Health Industry

Shelley Straw qualified as an Eye & Ear Nurse in 1982, and worked in the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital for close to 25 years. From ward nursing to Deputy Director of Nursing, she had done it all. In 2006 she had an idea about establishing the first Ear Hygiene Clinic in Australia. Crystal Clear Ears has grown to 7 nurses working across 4 clinics with a base of almost 20,000 patients. 

My Health Career asked Shelley about how she got started in this area….

“I am a registered nurse focusing on Ear Nursing, who set up an Ear wax removal clinic, and there are currently very few of those in Australia. This sounds like a ‘Yuk factor- extreme’ job, but actually, it is really good fun. A blocked ear really drives people mad, so they just love us for unblocking their ears.  That is a really nice thing. We also take out foreign bodies and help treat ear infections. There are not many things that are an instant fix when helping people with their health , and this is one of them.

So, how did I get into this? I was working in a Nursing management role at The Royal Victorian Eye & Ear Hospital, Melbourne, when I met an ear nurse from New Zealand. She told me she was setting up her own Ear Hygiene clinic in Christchurch.

I was quite surprised and interested, as there were no clinics like this in Australia. Basically, instead of going to the GP or practice nurse to have your ears syringed out with water, you have the wax removed with tiny scoops, and a gentle suction tube, under the view of a microscope. This is a much more gentle method, and in the past, was only available from Ear, Nose, & Throat Specialist doctors. Visiting the ENT doctor can mean a delay, as you need a referral from your GP, and often a long wait for an appointment. Most people with a blocked ear just want to get it out quickly, so they can get their hearing back, and get on with their lives.

The micro-suction method is also safer, and eliminates the risk of perforating an eardrum or developing an ear infection after water syringing.

Our nurses love this work. It can be quite technically challenging, and you need to be very good with people, to put them at ease.  They are often nervous and unsure of what to expect, so we talk them through the process, so they know what is going on.

Ear Hygiene clinics really suit people as a referral is not needed, they are run privately, and you can often get an appointment on the same day.  But the main reason people come, is because they hate the sensation of water in their ear with the syringing method, or they’ve tried it, and it didn’t work.

Other Health practitioners, (such as Audiologists and GP’s)  love the concept of these clinics, as the gentle suction just sucks out the wax, rather than trying to wash it out by  whooshing water into the ear. It is a much more effective way of getting out the wax, and often faster.
GPs are really busy, so messing about with a very blocked ear, trying in vain to get the wax out, is not high on their list of fun things to do. Ear syringing is also contra-indicated when there is a hole in the eardrum, and you often cannot see the drum when it is blocked by wax.

Very few GPs or practice nurses in Australia have the equipment or training to remove wax in this way. Other countries such as New Zealand and Britain have had these clinics for many years.  I went to New Zealand, and worked with Jane from Christchurch Ear Hygiene Clinic, and she ran a course for me to learn the skills, and also how to set up and run my own ear clinic.”

In the next fortnight we will be asking Shelley about the “teething problems” in setting up her practice, and whether she experienced issues with “turf wars” with ENTs, GPs and audiologists. So stay tuned!!

The second article from Shelley is available here: Setting up ear clinics from scratch – by Shelley Straw

Shelley became a registered nurse in 1978, and after working as a nurse in Western Australia, returned to Melbourne and qualified as an Eye & Ear Nurse in 1982 at The Royal Victorian Eye & Ear Hospital, Melbourne. Shelley then worked at the Eye & Ear for close to 25 years. Her roles included ward nursing, Nurse in Charge roles, followed by appointment to the role of Deputy Director of Nursing. This role then morphed into a Clinical Services Management role, including Risk Management, Human Resources, Policy & procedure review, Project Management, & general ‘go-to person’ for problem solving. During that time, she continued to study, and expand her skills.

By 2006 she had come up with the idea of establishing the first Ear Hygiene Clinic in Australia, and moved onto pursue this new career path. It was an exciting venture, and was initially coupled with working part-time at an Eye & Ear day surgery clinic, then After hours coordinator work at The Eye & Ear hospital. The clinics use the best practice method of Micro-suction ear hygiene, rather than water syringing. The latest advancement at Crystal Clear Ears is the development of a nationally accredited training course in Micro-suction and Aural Hygiene.

Since the opening of Crystal Clear Ears seven years ago, the clinic has grown from a sole practitioner in one clinic, to 12 nurses, working across 9 clinics in the suburbs of Melbourne, and Gippsland. The patient numbers have grown from zero to almost 35,000, with many people attending the clinics regularly.

Shelley is a member of the Australian College of Nursing, the Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Nurses Group, and the Australian Nurses Federation.

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One reply to “Becoming an Ear Nurse – by Shelley Straw”

  1. I am a retired nurse who unfortunately gave up my registration now would love to deal with those oldies who have blocked ears and disfunctional hearing aids
    Is there any chance I could do this role? i.e. syringing.
    Have you an practice in Sydney ?or a mobile nurse that would visit the Blue Mountains

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