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Keeping up in the baby chase

Since the birth of the first IVF baby in Australia in 1980, teams of nurses have supported couples to overcome infertility. Linda Belardi talks to one nurse working in the field.

Three weeks after suffering the loss of her mother to cancer, Vanessa Raggio was enrolled in a bachelor of nursing degree. Having witnessed first-hand the power of nursing to transform the experience of patients, she was inspired to leave her job and embark on a new career.

As a nurse educator at fertility clinic Genea in Sydney, Raggio now walks patients through their journey to conception. While at times emotionally draining, Raggio says her role is ultimately a very rewarding mix of clinical and social tasks.

Fertility success rates continue to improve, along with technological developments. Now, overall, almost 60 per cent of patients of all ages at Genea have a positive outcome. The 26-year-old clinic carries out 5000 IVF cycles a year and was the first in Australia to introduce routine single embryo transfer.

NR: What is special about your role?

As a fertility nurse educator I train nurses who have come from all areas of nursing into the specialty of fertility, a field that many nurses have not been exposed to before.

From understanding hormones and assisted reproductive techniques to the subtleties of communicating with patients, the role of the fertility nurse is a complex mix of clinical and communication skills. Fertility nurses often have to work with patients who are in very anxious and emotional situations and therefore require an empathetic listener.

I am also responsible for the continuing professional development of all our nurses both in our city, metropolitan and regional locations. I work in conjunction with our learning and development team to offer opportunities for our nurses to access quality ongoing education and development.

NR: What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy training new nurses, and my role is structured in a way that means I am still able to have patient contact. I enjoy the relationships that we build with our patients on their journey and the highs and lows that we encounter along the way.

I also value the teamwork. Nurses share a camaraderie that is hard to beat in a work situation. They really look out for each other and are very good “de-briefers” when they have been through a stressful situation. They also really know how to have a good laugh.

NR: Why did you decide to pursue fertility nursing in particular?

Fertility nursing has always interested me. When I completed my graduate year at St Vincent’s Private Hospital in Sydney, I applied for a role at Genea – then called Sydney IVF. I wasn’t successful as I did not have enough nursing experience, but it was always in the back of my mind that I would like to try again. I returned to anaesthetics/recovery nursing after maternity leave and then, when I was in a position to be able to work more hours, I was lucky enough to secure a role at Genea as a nurse co-ordinator.

NR: What skills are important to be successful in your job?

It’s essential to have a good understanding and knowledge of hormones, medications, procedures and how the process of assisted reproductive techniques work. We are on call 24 hours a day, so we need to be able to answer any questions or allay fears or anxieties in a confident and knowledgeable manner. Our patients want to know exactly what is happening; it makes them feel like they have more control over their bodies. Therefore it’s important that we provide our patients with accurate information in an emphatic and caring way so they feel informed and reassured.

NR: What do you find challenging about working with your patients?

The experience of using assisted reproductive techniques can be an absolute roller coaster of emotions for many people, so our nurses need to be very attuned to our patients’ needs. It can be challenging when we have to deliver bad news and we often become caught up in the emotion of it at times. Some of our patients go through a very long and difficult journey and it is sometimes hard not to feel a little responsible if an outcome is not positive. However, when we get to give great news, it all balances out. We are very excited to be able to ring patients with positive pregnancy results.

NR: How do you stay on top of the rapid developments in reproductive technology?

We are lucky to be able to provide excellent education through in-house training, attending conferences and inviting external speakers and educators to talk to our staff. We also have an excellent team of embryologists, andrologists and research scientists at our disposal who happily share their knowledge. Research is a huge part of the work that Genea carries out which also includes genetic and stem cell research, so it really is a fascinating place to work in. Recent developments to improve patient outcomes in this field have been quite incredible. But we’re all here working towards the same goal, which is to send couples home with healthy babies.

NR: What changes are taking place in this developing field of nursing?

With technology changing all of the time, nurses can’t afford not to keep up. I think the biggest challenge for nurses is the rise in the use of IT in our day-to-day work. Databases and the new technologies are changing our practices all the time and I think sometimes nurses feel resistant to change, as they feel it inhibits them for doing their job as well as they could before. But with good training and explanation, nurses are starting to understand that change is always going to be part of what we do. To embrace change can bring real benefits to us and to our patients.

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