Susan Farlow was just 16 years old when she trained as a chef and got her first job working in a hospital in her home country England.
She quickly found her passion in healthcare and has dedicated her working life to managing hospitality and food services in hospitals across Australia, New Zealand and the UK.
For the past 13 years, she has been part of the UnitingCare family, working first at The Wesley Hospital before joining the St Andrew’s team and later being appointed Hotel Services Manager.
“I’ve worked in healthcare now for more than 35 years. After immigrating to Australia, by 2010, I’d worked at every private and some public hospitals on the Gold Coast,” Susan said.
“I’d always worked predominantly in food and hospitality roles and I was familiar with the processes and everything that is needed to ensure patients are fed and nourished at each and every meal time. But I was looking for greater challenges and new opportunities.
“So, when my son was reaching the end of University, I decided it was time to move to Brisbane. I put my application in at The Wesley and three days later I had a job.
“I worked at The Wesley for about 18 months before the Food Services Manager role became available at St Andrew’s and I’ve been here ever since,” she said.
As Hotel Services Manager, Susan has led kitchen, housekeeping, linen, waste and orderly teams – some of the behind the scenes heroes of hospitals.
“Leading this team has been extremely rewarding. It’s a special group of people with culturally diverse backgrounds and each brings something unique to the table,” Susan said.
“The privilege of my role has been watching my team members and their families thrive. Many have immigrated to Australia and I’ve been able to walk with them through that process. Now years later, I’m seeing their children graduate and get married!”
Reflecting on more than three decades working in hospitals, Susan has seen tremendous change and gained resilience through almost every emergency a hospital can experience.
“Every hospital I’ve worked at has had a flood, every hospital I’ve worked at I’ve slept at, every hospital has had the same kind of internal emergencies that we deal with. You become very resilient through these times, you go into emergency mode and you get the job done no matter what,” Susan said.
“I had been working at The Wesley for about six weeks when it was cut off by flood waters in 2011. I slept there for a week. What has stayed with me since then is the immense heartbreak and grief some of my colleague’s experienced, especially those who lost their homes.
“Then came the pandemic which of course was extremely challenging. But the silver lining, I think, was that people realised just how important our housekeeping teams are and it was amazing to see them get that recognition.
“From a food services perspective, the changes I’ve seen in the past 20 to 30 years, especially around food allergies has been tremendous,” she said.
Susan has always taken life one decade at a time and now the time has come for her to embark on her next chapter, retirement.
“I’ve always made ten-year plans. It’s always helped me to think about whether I’d be happy to do what I’m doing for the next ten years, and if not what I’m going to do about it,” Susan said.
“I feel proud to have taken our hotel services team from being in a really challenging place to where we are today. The team are happy and well, they are in a great place and so I know the time is right to pass the baton,” she said.
She will leave St Andrew’s this month humble about her incredible impact and with fond memories of a special place where the good times have been abundant.
“I’ve worked in hospitals ranging from 180 beds to more than 600 beds in size, and I honestly think what makes St Andrew’s work is the size of the hospital.
“You’re not just a number or a cog in the wheel here, everyone knows each other and people can identify each other by name.
“St Andrew’s is a special hospital, it’s unique. Of all the hospitals I’ve worked at, in all the years, this one is special. There’s just something about it, but I put it down to the size,” she said.
While Susan hasn’t completely mapped out the next ten years yet, in retirement she is looking forward to moving home to the Gold Coast to be closer to her family and to visiting her sister in the UK for the first time in many years.
“I’m most excited to turn the alarm off on my phone and to spend more time being closer to my son and his family, including my two grandchildren,” Susan said.
“This farewell is going to be hard. I will miss the people and the humanity of this place. It’s going to be really hard at the end, there are going to be a lot of tears!
“We’ve laughed and we’ve cried. But hand on heart, I really do feel that my work here is done.”