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From the main cabin to the main arena

There is about 35,000 feet between the average plane and Royal North Shore Hospital’s emergency, but for the department’s new patient experience officers there are a lot of similarities between their old jobs and their new one.

Former flight attendants Sunita Oberholzer and Melanie Berbakov have joined the close-knit ED team after the COVID-19 pandemic grounded planes.

They think they have found the perfect fit as patient experience officers, a non-clinical role that aims to maintain and improve the experience of patients and families within the ED, and like their former role, it comes complete with the uniform.

I feel like I’m at home with the role
Melanie Berbakov

"The two roles do cross over a lot; keeping your eye on everything, helping people, managing people – I’m used to doing that."

"As soon as the patient walks through that door, the patient sees us and we become the go-to – like being on a plane," Sunita said.

"The role spoke about caring for people, being empathetic and I thought that translated so well from what I was doing before.

"But this is nicer because I get to sleep in my own bed every night."

The role includes such tasks as welcoming, way-finding, providing regular communication, comfort and assistance as required.

Sunita said she already felt like one of the team, even if there were a few more staff than she was used to.

"I feel like we’re making a difference" Sunita said.

"We’re getting to know everyone; every time I look up there’s a new face there but everyone has been supportive and helpful.

Melanie said it was inspiring to see the clinicians working up close having had some medical episodes on board during her time in the air.

"This role has given me a greater appreciation of medical professionals but it’s also been a learning role – we’ve learnt so much just being here for a few weeks," she said.

"When you work in this type of environment, people are quite grounded. They’re used to working hard and long hours; we can relate to that."

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