How Do You Make ‘Happy’? This New Grad Program Has Made Social Life a Priority and It’s Having a Real Impact at BRHS

BRHS Physiotherapists, and recent grads, Genevieve Ryan, Eilis O’Haire and Emma McKinney. Photo: Jake Lynch/BRHS


You might not be able to describe it, but you know it when you see it.

A workplace where the staff genuinely like each other and are happy to be there is one of those intangible things that can really make or break a business or an organisation.

As a customer, when you walk in the door you can feel it.

And although often it’s hard to fake “good vibes,” there are things that workplaces can do to help staff feel connected to each other and to foster a sense of comradery and team spirit.

Our team of young Physiotherapists within the Allied Health department is a great example of that.

“Four or five years ago, we realised that we needed to do something to keep good young physios here at BRHS,” remembers Jane O’Shanassy, Team Leader of Occupational Therapy and Allied Health Support. “We were having a hard time recruiting physios, and then retaining them. Something had to be done.”

Something was done.

In 2016 BRHS did some research into the creation of a group for new health graduates starting their careers here in Bairnsdale and across East Gippsland.

What that research found was that, for many young people, starting their first job in a new community, away from home, where they didn’t know anyone, could be a scary and isolating experience.

It could be lonely. And lonely isn’t fun. It doesn’t make you want to stick around.

And so we created what is formally called the Eastern Gippsland Allied Health New Graduate Program, though no one that is actually in it calls it that.

They know it as the New Grads group.


“They’re not your work friends, they’re your friends.”

Its members are young professionals like Emma McKinney, Genevieve Ryan and Eilis O’Haire, who all came to BRHS in the last 18 months straight out of university, and who credit the New Grads group with helping them find their feet here, and find their place.

Emma is from Sydney, Eilis is from Melbourne, and Genevieve is from Inverloch. When they first came to BRHS, they didn’t know a soul.

But the way they talk about the relationships they’ve formed here in such a short period of time is testimony to the incredible success the New Grads group has had in encouraging a real and vibrant network of colleagues and friends to develop.

“They’re not your work friends, they’re your friends,” says Emma McKinney.

“I speak with my friends back home, or working in other hospitals, and they don’t have this.”

Just a few moments later, Eilis says “It’s not a work dinner, it’s a dinner with friends.”

Do you see a pattern forming here?

The New Grads group meets once every three weeks for the first nine weeks of their year, and includes new grads across a range of specialties at BRHS and other health organisations in the region, such as Gippsland Lakes Community Health, Orbost Regional Health and Omeo District Health.

They meet at different sites on a rotating schedule, to take part in short presentations on things like clinical supervision, notetaking and documentation, cultural awareness, and managing your finances – personal and professional skills that your average 20-something straight out of university may need some help with.

Following these short education sessions, the grads go out and get a meal together. And it’s here that, many of the grads say, the real value of the group kicks in.

“The socialising aspect, it’s really important,” Emma says.

The group explores new restaurants in communities all over the region. There, sitting around the table over good food and drink, they’re able to talk about the joys and challenges of their jobs, to advise and support each other, and to make plans for other get-togethers outside of the New Grads group schedule.

In short, to be friends to each other.

Eilis says the initial structure of the New Grads group get-togethers has evolved into a more organic culture of socialising and supporting each other.

Not surprisingly, the stunning nature and delicious food of East Gippsland are the central themes of most of the gatherings. The gnocchi at Long Paddock is mentioned several times.

“There’s always some kind of spontaneous gathering happening,” she says. “Sometimes we’ll organise to meet at one of the farmers markets…”

“…Or if you’re going to the gym you’ll just ask if anyone else wants to come,” adds Genevieve.

Emma remembers that on her first weekend in town, Australia Day weekend last year, a group of staff she didn’t know (then) dragged her out for a hike at Cape Conran, which ended in an epic barbecue and a whole bunch of new friends.

When Eilis started this year, Emma “paid it forward” by taking her out on a long walk, too.

Not surprisingly, the stunning nature and delicious food of East Gippsland are the central themes of most of the gatherings. (The gnocchi at Long Paddock in Lindenow is mentioned several times – these young grads are fast becoming serious foodies.)

Recently a group of staff did a team triathlon together, and anyone that wasn’t able to participate came along to cheer. Later this year they’re planning a ski trip.


The impact.

We may use the work “team” a lot to describe a group of people that work together. But these guys really do feel like one.

What may have started as “forced family fun” has become the real thing.

Emma says the New Grads group has been the catalyst for an energetic, welcoming and inclusive work culture among new grads that is now a real point of difference for BRHS.

“I speak with my friends back home, or working in other hospitals, and they don’t have this,” she says.

If the goal was to keep more talented young professionals at BRHS and happy in East Gippsland, it’s working.

Our health service, and our community, is all the better for it.

BRHS Community Health services, of which the Physiotherapists in Allied Health are a part, recently performed extraordinarily well in the Victorian Healthcare Experience Survey (VHES), with 97% of patients accessing our Community Health services reporting they had a positive experience.

To learn more about that, read our latest story on the results.