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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Personal story:

Dr Ravi Bhat and Melissa Metcalf

Dr Ravi Bhat and Melissa Metcalf

Dr Ravi Bhat and Ms Melissa Metcalf, Adult Mental Health Service Divisional Clinical Director and Senior Mental Health Nurse at Goulburn Valley Health respectively, reflected on their roles as leaders working in the mental health sector and consider it a journey of life‑long learning.

They believe that a culture of collaborative interprofessional leadership, where people are valued and lived experience is central, is the key to a strong workforce.

They said reflective practice and clinical supervision are an important part of fostering positive, supportive environments, including for managers and senior leadership teams. However, this can be difficult to make a priority, with high patient numbers and budget constraints.

Supervision is of critical importance, not just for clinicians working on ground level but for us too. Mental health professionals are required to draw from considerable emotional and cognitive reserves. On top of that there are constant pressures and limitations. At the moment there isn’t dedicated funding for regular reflective supervision for the Senior Leadership Team.

In an ideal world clinical supervision for nurses, particularly mental health nurses would be a mandatory requirement for ongoing registration as it is for a number of other disciplines. Nursing is fundamentally an interpersonal profession and at times this can be not only demanding but it can take an emotional toll. For managers this can be compounded by balancing the role that they have in overseeing service delivery while supporting their workforce. If this was to ever occur there needs to be an acknowledgment that this is part of the ’work day’, not an add on. Time and resources would need to be invested.

Dr Bhat and Ms Metcalf noted that fostering cultures of learning and reflective practice are important to sustain and develop the workforce.

There are challenges in retaining high quality staff in a role and environment that has inherent emotional load and complexity.

According to Dr Bhat and Ms Metcalf, staff need to feel supported in their role and see opportunities for growth, development and variety in the work they are doing. Collaborative leadership creates opportunities to build shared capabilities across workstreams and specialisations.

We have put a lot of time and effort into developing pathways in our training programs for mental health professionals, including nurses and doctors, who we see as a source of our future leaders. We have been very intentional in building space into these programs to focus on development of leadership skills as well as allowing staff to develop in their areas of interest.

Dr Bhat and Ms Metcalf believe good leaders care about their staff; they show interest in their wellbeing and their professional development. This type of leadership facilitates sustainable, supportive working environments where people can fulfill their potential and have good work–life balance over the long haul.

It is about caring and kindness. How is goodwill and trust built? It’s built by developing relationships in a psychologically safe space. It is showing that being in a position of authority isn’t just about accountability but equally about caring.

Dr Bhat and Ms Metcalf note that positive workforce outcomes lead to better outcomes for consumers.

Source: Dr Ravi Bhat and Melissa Metcalf, Correspondence to the RCVMHS, 2020.