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The training program to become an ear nurse – by Shelley Straw


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 third article about rolling out multiple specialist ear clinics My Health Career asked Shelley about the training program she has set up with the Institute of Health & Nursing Australia.

“When I established the clinic, there were no training courses in Australia for nurses or other health professionals who wanted to learn the Micro-suction technique. I could see it was going to be impossible to spread these types of clinics across Australia unless we developed a training program.The Australian public has a right to expect high quality ear health care, and of course, safe ear care. Lots of people tell us they have had painful ear wax removal in the past, and they certainly are not happy about that. So it is vital to give them as gentle an experience as possible, and to actually get the wax out without causing harm.

Perfecting these skills takes quite a bit of time, firstly observing a skilled practitioner, looking in lots of ears, and then practicing the skills in a safe environment. There is a huge diversity in the shape of the ear canal, with some people having extremely narrow canals and others a twisted canal, which creates a challenge removing the wax.

Ear practitioners need to know what is normal in an ear, and to recognise infections, dermatitis, skin cancers, or middle ear infections. They need to know when to refer a patient on to the GP, an ENT specialist, or to an Audiologist for a hearing test. They also need steady hands and good eyesight.

It is important to have health training programs that are nationally recognised as meeting a high standard. Training courses need to be based on established best practice, and advice from Ear health practitioners such as ENT specialists, GPs and audiologists in the community. The Micro-suction and Aural Hygiene course is offered in partnership with the Institute of Health & Nursing Australia, and is nationally accredited under ASQA.

There is also a demand for business development packages that can help others set up their own clinics, or to partner with an Audiologist, GP or a nurse.

This field is wide open and in its infancy in Australia, and is at a really exciting point. People who hear about it are fascinated, as we all love to talk earwax, don’t we!??!

It is really great for our ear health to use safer, gentler techniques, that are shown to be best practice. The ear and hearing health of the nation is really enhanced when these services are delivered by practitioners who specialise in ears, are knowledgeable, and can give good advice to promote good hearing and good ear health.”

This concludes Shelley’s 4-article series on specialist ear nursing click here for the other articles:

About Shelley

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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