Alice Brown has been a clinical nurse all her working life. As an intensive care nurse on and off for 10 years, she saw more than her share of trauma, eventually taking a break from the “horrific-ness” after a couple of incidents left her on the verge of burnout.
Fortuitously, towards the end of her intensive care journey she had started becoming more involved in hospital-wide resuscitation, a journey she would expand on in her next role as a clinical specialist for a private hospital and which would ultimately set her on the pathway towards what is now thriving business empowering health professionals with, not only resuscitation training, but full-blown scenarios mimicking real-life medical emergencies.
Based in Christchurch, but extending her services into Timaru and Oamaru, Alice’s business, Resuscitation Matters, uses mannequins, props and training adjuncts to simulate real life scenarios, guiding clients through each scenario and then debriefing them afterwards.
The teams respond as they would in real life, learning how to work together, create leadership and practice teamwork behaviours they don’t get to practice every day in situations where their brains are under stress and in crisis mode.
Teams range from first response and community doctors, dentists and dental assistants through to anaesthetists and surgeons.
“We create simulations that are as real to their own clinical environments with the scopes that they would have to treat the patients,” Alice says.
“Some of our more high-tech scenarios are set in operating theatres where we have full operating kits and actors playing different roles, orchestrating a scenario that would have been written beforehand, with the patient deteriorating as you would expect in a theatre or ward environment, according to their specific condition.”
Alice identifies what a hospital’s needs are before initiating each scenario.
“Sometimes hospitals have had an event where it has knocked staff confidence, sometimes it can be based on new protocols that might be going on in the hospital, for example one hospital we worked with recently instigated a standing order so nurses could give adrenalin and anaphylaxis without a doctor’s order, so some of that was around putting them through a scenario where they had to do that and working together as a team to make it happen.
“Or sometimes it can be a really out-of-the-blue scenario based on what’s happening around the country in other hospitals. We really try and engage with the teams we are working with to find the most valuable experience for them.”
Alice’s business model fits her like a glove. She has always been passionate about education and improving patient outcomes and she has a natural affinity with people.
But, while her business is flourishing now, like many first-time business owners who start their businesses out of a great desire or passion for what they do, Alice didn’t have a clue about how to actually run a business when she bought it back in 2015.
“I knew clinical really well, I knew how to teach really well, but I had no idea how to run a business,” she says. “I remember being very freaked out with my first invoice and in the first year I just wanted to cry so much, I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Alice did what she thought were all the right things such as going to Business Network meetings, but she says half of everything went over her head.
“I had a huge amount of learning to do in that first year, and also a workload that increased a lot. It was a very courageous time in my life stepping up to that challenge – I didn’t listen to good advice sometimes, and I didn’t put investment in places I should have, but I’ve learnt a lot from that.”
What she also learnt, was that in order to expand her business further, she needed expert advice. She had already set the expansion wheels in motion when she added real-life scenario training to the existing resuscitation training in place when she bought the business, but she says, when she turned to Business Mentors New Zealand for support, it completely changed her trajectory.
Not long after her first contact with BMNZ, she was paired with mentor John Barr, who Alice says helped her understand what the important things to think about were and how to take a step back from everyday operations and look at the bigger picture.
“He helped me think about my goals, realistic opportunities, how to engage with my customers, structure business discussions and how to make values and then stick to them,” Alice says.
“But I guess his biggest advice was teaching me how to make business goals and projections. That really changed my thinking.”
Resuscitation Matters has doubled in size since Alice started working with John three years ago.
“We have much better structures within the business, a whole bunch of instructors are now on board, and we’ve gone from being a small family, couple-run business to a medium size trading business. We’ve also increased the hospitals we’re working with by 50% and are getting more and bigger clients on board. It has just bloomed in every area.”
And this year, Alice will advertise for her first fulltime staff member – an Operations Manager-Instructor.
Two of her bigger goals are to increase geographic spread - with plans afoot to branch out into the whole of the South Island, and eventually Auckland – as well as to increase her clients’ quality of experience.
“We’ve been taking some feedback from participants, who rate how confident they are before and after training, so we can look at it from a perspective of confidence and gain from their experience and hopefully we’ll publish that research in the next couple of years.”
She says results so far have been positive, with an average 20% increase in confidence recorded from the one-hour sessions.
“And one of the biggest victories for Resuscitation Matters is that they did have an arrest in one of the private hospitals that we have been working with and afterwards they said they knew what they needed to do because of the simulation.
“It’s always been a massive passion of mine to improve patient outcomes, so I feel like we’re really making a difference in that regard.”
Alice says sourcing a business mentor is the “most valuable” investment someone can make in their company.
“There is so much that you don’t know that you don’t know and a mentor can really point you in the right direction of what you do need to know,” she says.
As sole director, Alice says it can often be a lonely road.
“All the decisions start and stop with me,” she says. “So being able to tap into someone and ask questions is invaluable.
“I don’t know if they’re all as amazing as John, but why wouldn’t you get a mentor?
She says John has been the “absolutely most amazing person” to work with.
“He’s very honest with me but also very open to my ideas and my thinking pathways. I’ve never felt judged, it’s always been a very positive experience engaging with John - he’s been very encouraging, at the same time when I’ve needed to hear honest truth, he’s been very kind in his delivery.”
Business mentors such as John come with years of experience and a wealth of knowledge from running their own successful businesses. They volunteer their services so that other small to medium business owners can reap the rewards from that hands-on knowledge.
John says he loves helping people get the sparkle back in their eyes by sharing his knowledge and helping them on their road to success.
“I’ve always said knowledge not shared isn’t worth having,” he says. “Sometimes their business has got them down or they are overwhelmed, so if I can help them get on a good path, that’s great.”
He says Alice was a delight to have as a mentee with “bucketfuls of enthusiasm, inbuilt confidence, capability and competence and with a good, caring approach towards people.”
“And she just wraps her own natural confidence and outgoingness around that.”
He says she was also a proactive listener, who really needed to know what she didn’t know and was open to looking at new things and at things in different ways.
“The best part was that she took the advice, then built on it and personalised it to her own world view and her own personal and business situation as she saw it, which is really smart, because I actually don’t want people to necessarily take my advice word for word. I want them to take it and digest it to their own situation, which includes their own personality and attributes.”
Alice’s business has grown “phenomenally” over the last three years, he says.
“At the start you could say she had a hobby and she now has a business. She identified a niche that she could add real value to, and, while early on she knew she was being successful, she didn’t know how successful she could be.”
Now, he says, she’s “away and flying”.
Alice’s 3 key takeaway points for businesses:
1: Put a pen and paper on your bedside table so if you have an idea in the night you can write it down and then learn to switch off from thinking about it
2: Hang out with people who can help you understand. Ask them as many stupid questions until you understand.
3: Do what you are passionate about. Your vibe attracts your tribe (of customers!)