September 30, 2019

Colin Woodward: From the battlefield to the ward

Colin Woodward, Director of Engineering and Building Services, was recently invited to speak at Australasian College of Health Service Management breakfast session on the lessons he learned in the army and how they can be implemented in a health care environment.

In both of these environments, Colin said he had to quickly learn how to survive, learn his trade, find role models and keep his sense of humor. From the days when he was just a teenager in the army, till today, he still makes his bed every morning, shaves, cleans his shoes and is always in early.

“My military experience started at 16. I was surrounded by some really good people and part of the process was identifying who are the people you follow, and who are the ones you don’t. My bosses wanted nothing but the best, and at that early stage of my career, I realised I needed role models to lead my way,” he said.

During his career, Colin said he had to learn how to listen, observe, learn quickly and fail. He observed that no matter how good he trained or achieved, it wasn’t good enough.

“Even after I finished my military training, I always keep thinking if I’ve done the best I could! And the same is today with my trade,” he said.

Over time, Colin read a lot and learned a about the military appreciation process that focuses on planning, communication and how everyone should think the same.

“This is something that taught me to operate effectively in the worst possible conditions and health is a pretty good example of that. I also removed the word ‘can’t’ from my vocabulary and focused on success,” Colin said.

In both health care and military environments, Colin is certain training needs to be harder than the reality.

“If we ever get hit with a large number of people coming through with injuries, it should be business as usual. That’s why training needs to be harder than our every day reality”.

Another parallel between the military and health care environments Colin draws is in how different teams or corps work together towards a mission.

“If I take military environment and compare it to health care, in defence we have commanders at all levels and different corps, the structure is there. In health care there is surgical, ICU, cleaners, kitchen, medical wards etc – all these are dependant on each other and they all need to work towards the success of our mission,” Colin said.

While on the job, in either environment, Colin noticed how systems always keep changing. More than systems, he says how training and environments will also change and that is something we should always consider as part of what we do.

“What people died from 30 years ago, they don’t die from today. This is research and development,” he said.

Both health care and the military are 24/7 environments which never stop and he emphasised the importance of planning.

“Defence plans and trains to win, while health care can’t win. In defence, our mission is to win battles, and wars. In health, we may win some battles but never the war. People will always get sick, have a car accident or get the flu,” Colin said.

Briana Baass, Chief Allied Health Officer attended the lecture and said, “Amazing conversation at Australasian College of Health Service Management (ACHSM) breakfast. Loved hearing from Colin Woodward and Mark Bainbridge about how their military experience taught them to ‘achieve what you need to achieve, in an environment that doesn’t allow you to win.’ So many similarities.”

Colin sees health care as a “business that will go on forever”, and a huge task in front of all health care workers is to find a way to combat those challenges.

“I do my best, expect nothing in return and I never panic under pressure,” Colin said.

Colin with Briana Baass, Chief Allied Health Officer and guests at the lecture