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Source: Health Quality and Safety Commission

Sonya Veale, physiotherapist and recipient of a 2020 Open for leadership award

Timaru physiotherapist Sonya Veale was shocked and a little embarrassed to hear she was the latest recipient of an Open for leadership award.

‘I truly believe we work as a collaborative team to ensure the best for our clients, so I was quite embarrassed to be singled out.’

The awards are part of the Health Quality & Safety Commission’s work to build capability and leadership in the health sector. They recognise and celebrate health professionals who demonstrate excellent practice, quality improvement and leadership skills.

Sonya has two roles at South Canterbury District Health Board (DHB). She works 0.6 as a physiotherapist and 0.4 as a learning hub advisor, a new role that she took on in 2019.

The work she has been recognised for includes being a champion for multiple projects and playing a major role in the DHB’s assessment, treatment and rehabilitation unit being awarded the best outcome for stroke rehabilitation in New Zealand by the Australasian Rehabilitation Outcomes Centre.

She is also a trainer for the functional independence measure regulated by that body, which measures patients’ abilities before and after they are admitted to the unit and considers other factors such as length of stay and discharge destination. Sonya completes all the documentation for the measure and holds regular training in it for other staff.

Bridges self-management, which enables health and social care teams to support individuals to feel confident to self-manage and be less reliant on their services was introduced to the unit in 2018. Sonya has been a champion for this approach, which enhances the efficiency and impact of clients’ care and rehabilitation.

She also led the exercise workstation project in the unit. Patients can walk around the ward and stop at each workstation to facilitate upper- and lower-limb exercises. The stations are an essential part of patients’ rehabilitation and recovery, and reduce length of stay.

Another project has been training more than 70 support workers in the community on strength and balance exercises to help reduce falls. Sonya has also been instrumental in organising and developing training for physiotherapists to assess and safely fit patients for orthotic splints and braces, reducing the demands placed on the DHB’s small orthotic service.

Sonya, who graduated 21 years ago, initially worked in Taranaki, then spent 16 years in the UK. She has been based in Timaru since returning home in 2009.
She admits to being pretty good at raising her hand when there’s a call for volunteers.

‘I like finding out what people think – both colleagues and clients – and where the sticking points are so we can move forward.

‘I’ve been very lucky in that I love the ‘ICARE’ values the DHB has and the push to be a learning organisation. I see that building capability and capacity among the whole team increases our compassion and the opportunities we have to work with our clients individually.

‘This new role has given me extra opportunities to lead and inspire other people. It’s all about the patient for me – providing the best possible quality care we can to meet our individual clients’ needs.

‘Even after 21 years, people still amaze me and when you create space for them, they are awesome in letting you in. Being part of their journey is an amazing privilege.’
The DHB’s director allied health, Rene Templeton, says Sonya displays exceptional leadership in her willingness to step into challenging and controversial situations with calmness, clarity and compassion.

‘She is a master at assessing a dilemma and offering solutions that are acceptable to both parties and she brings her honesty and her intelligence to work every day.’

More information on the Open for leadership awards, including other recipients, is available here.

Editorial note: Due to the COVID-19 Level 4 lockdown, we were sadly unable to present Sonya with her award in person, so we do not have an award ceremony photo to mark her achievement. The photo featured in this article was taken of Sonya just prior to the lockdown. Congratulations, Sonya!  

Last updated 23/04/2020