When John Biviano reflects on the last six months under COVID-19, he is amazed by the way “the College profession has united, particularly regarding decision-making and communication.” Mr. Biviano is CEO of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS). Therefore, it is no exaggeration to say that the College Fellows he and his colleagues work with have been engaged in matters of life and death significance.
Mr. Biviano explains, “When the pandemic started, we had to ensure sufficient surgical capacity in hospitals. To do that, we worked closely with government at all levels, remained in touch with health departments, and provided the right advice to protect everyone’s health. Our President, Dr Tony Sparnon, developed a close working relationship with the various Chief Medical Officers and other key health experts.”
One critically important decision RACS made was to recommend reduction of elective surgeries. They were also one of the first colleges to voluntarily shut down and take all interactions online. In March 2020, they pulled off the feat of transitioning over 200 staff to working from home within two weeks. Mr. Biviano says that “within three to four weeks, it all became quite normal.”
RACS surgeons, “eager to do their part”, produced evidence-based reviews on triaging patients, a matter of utmost importance under COVID-19. Mr. Biviano says that these reviews would have normally taken months to produce, but RACS’ research unit completed them in weeks.
As a whole, RACS is responsible for training surgeons and maintaining surgical standards in Australia and New Zealand. But Mr. Biviano notes that it is an umbrella organization for specialty societies such as Neurosurgery and Cardiothoracic Surgery. As such, the work of coordinating communications and decision-making between all of these bodies is complex. However, Mr. Biviano was “amazed by the ability of our staff and the surgeons who work with the college to adjust to things like Zoom.”
In addition to the willingness of team members to adjust, Mr. Biviano credits RACS’ extraordinary agility to the organization’s communication-focused approach.
“As a staff, we had a habit of holding 9am Zoom meetings to stay on top of the situation,” he explains. “We also provided daily communication to members. And we created a COVID hub website that collected guidelines our members were producing.”
Mr. Biviano is careful to note that RACS adjusts its communications frequency according to conditions. “For a while our management team met daily, but that’s gone down to twice weekly now. I was sending daily emails to staff; now they go out fortnightly. You don’t want to swamp people.
“Communication is how we equip people to be more agile. We support staff and members to make changes and when they see the benefits, it cements those changes. As difficult as it’s been, COVID-19 has enabled us to push change a little further.”