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Setting up ear clinics from scratch – by Shelley Straw

Careers and University, Nursing, The Business of Health

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. 

Following on from Shelley’s first article about becoming a Specialist Ear Nurse, My Health Career asked Shelley about whether she experienced issues with “turf wars from ENTs, GPs and audiologists.

“Before I opened up the first clinic, I really researched it thoroughly. After all, I had a lot to give up, as I was in a steady public hospital job, with heaps of sick leave credits, and I loved my work. I worried what would happen if I got sick, and it helped to make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of setting up my own business, as it was an untested model for Australia.

I could see that it was a well -accepted model of ear care in New Zealand, which I thought would translate well into the Australian setting. I kept in touch with the New Zealand nurse over 2 years, and I could see how well her business was growing, and that it was possible for me to support myself, and in fact earn much more than in my current job.

The challenge was:  that this method of ear cleaning was largely unheard of by the Australian general public, so the question was how to educate people about it.

The other question was:  would GP’s, ENT’s and Audiologists see this as a threat to their own businesses?

I also needed to establish, as a nurse, could I get professional indemnity cover, and was I legally allowed to run my own clinic, and practice within the scope of my AHPRA Nursing Registration?

I found that I was able to cover all those bases, and the other Ear Health practitioners were, on the whole very supportive. Audiologists in particular, were very happy to hear of these clinics. In the past, if one of their clients had a blocked ear, they had to send them to their GP, to remove the wax, before they could complete the hearing test. The GP may, or may not get the wax out, and sometimes this caused delays in the hearing testing, and fitting of a hearing aid.

Having wax removed by Micro-suction ensured the wax issue was quickly fixed, and before long, audiologists were asking us to come and do sessional ear cleaning work in their clinics.

We found that GPs were slower to begin referring, but once they found out about us, and lots of their patients told them how happy they were, they started to send people along.

We had mixed reactions from ENT specialists. I sent information to the Melbourne ENTs, and also to the ENT advisory committee at The Eye & Ear Hospital, to let them know what I was doing, and also what my qualifications were. It certainly helped that many of them knew me personally, from my work at The Eye & Ear Hospital. No-one actually told me directly what they thought, but I had the support of a senior and respected ENT.  We now have many ENT specialists who recommend our clinic to their patients (often they have long waiting lists, and their time is better spent caring for people with diseases of the ear, rather than taking out wax). I see the surgeons at our annual ENT Nursing conferences, which are run in conjunction with the surgeon’s conference, and that helps to maintain communications.

We collect data on how each of our patients find out about us, and Word of Mouth continues to be No.1, followed by Audiologists, GPs, and our Website. It helps that we have professional qualifications, and that this method is the one identified as Best Practice throughout the world.”

In the next fortnight we will be asking Shelley about how her transition from a nurse to rolling out multiple clinics in Melbourne. So stay tuned!!

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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