Tips on getting started as a consumer rep
Starting a new role as a consumer representative is exciting but can also be daunting. Here are some of the many tips and resources available to help you settle in well and become a confident and effective consumer:
Make sure you take up any opportunity for training that is offered to you. Many health services offer ‘induction training’. This is usually a part or full day training that that all new staff do, covering what the organisation does, its management structure and policies. In some cases a special induction program is available for consumers joining a representative or engagement program.
Face-to-face consumer training that is designed for consumer representatives is an excellent way to quickly build your knowledge and develop new skills. Health Consumers NSW offers this training within NSW, usually across 2 days. Some health services organise in-house training for their consumer representatives while others pay for their consumers to attend public courses. The Health Issues Centre in Victoria also offers training including a three day accredited course.
Things to do before your first day
- Read through any material sent to you by the health service.
- Browse the website of the health service to find out more about what the organisation does, how it is structured and how it communicates with the public.
- If you are taking up a committee role, read through the committee ‘terms of reference’ (call and ask for this if you don’t have it). It is also a good idea to call the committee chair if you haven’t already met them to introduce yourself and ask any questions you may have. If you have any particular concerns or requests this is a good time to raise them with the chair.
- Find out who else will be attending – if it is appropriate (e.g. when joining a committee) ask for some information about who else be present and what their roles are.
- Think about how you would introduce yourself in one (1) minute to the committee/focus group/forum you are attending. Remember you are participating because of your consumer experience and knowledge plus any other skills you bring with you. Be confident and brief.
You can access more great resources for new consumer representatives at the Victorian Health Issues Centre website in their Getting Involved Toolkit.
Things to do at your first meeting or event
- Introduce yourself confidently and briefly. Remember your personal experience is a big part of why you were selected but your ability to ‘see the bigger picture’ and how you can contribute will be greatly appreciated by your colleagues.
- Make a note of who others are as they introduce themselves. It will be hard to remember all names immediately but keeping brief notes will help.
- Listen to the contributions of others and note who is supportive of the consumer perspective – taking the time to get to know these people during break times as they can be a support and an ally.
- Make the most of coffee and lunch breaks to meet others and network. Identify any experienced consumer representatives that you relate to. Some health services will arrange a buddy or mentor for you, but if this doesn’t happen it is worthwhile connecting up with someone experienced and helpful to give you some guidance (for example you could ask if you could phone them before the next meeting to discuss any questions you have about your role). Most people are more than willing to help.
- Be careful of committing to doing anything you either don’t have time to do or aren’t sure you can do. Ask for more information about what is involved or ask if you can discuss what’s involved after the meeting. Keep notes of anything you agree to do before the next meeting.
The Consumers Health Forum of Australia offers a range of resources for consumer representatives including this online resource which is particularly useful for consumers involved in committees.
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