Cardiac rehabilitation expert Robert Zecchin celebrates 40 years working at Westmead Hospital

Robert Zecchin

Two days after turning 18, Robert Zecchin commenced nursing training at Westmead Hospital in Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) and has been working there full time for the past 40 years uninterrupted.

He’s found working in health in WSLHD since 1982 “just as rewarding as it is for parents watching their kids grow up from infancy.  It has its highs and lows but its strong foundations remain the same”.

Robert commenced in the Cardiac Education and Assessment Program (CEAP) at Westmead Hospital as its nurse unit manager in 1991 and after a five-year hiatus in cardiology bed management he took up the role of nurse unit manager for the cardiac rehabilitation services across four sites in WSLHD in 2004.

“I came from the coronary care unit environment and saw cardiac rehabilitation as having a large impact on the lives of our cardiac patients after discharge. I wanted to be involved in that part of the journey of patients and their recovery where the nurse was valued just as much as those working in critical care units,” Robert said.

Not surprisingly Robert has seen much change in the past 40 years working in cardiac rehabilitation saying, “the main shift was its mainstream acceptance that it is a contributing factor to the decreasing mortality and morbidity of the cardiovascular patient today”.

“Cardiac rehabilitation at WSLHD remains at a high standard, not only in Australia, but also in comparison internationally.  We maintain nurse-led exercise stress testing and high intensity exercise training and promote cardiac rehabilitation to special conditions.”

Robert was a first registered nurse working in 1985 with his then girlfriend Alison (now wife for 35 years) who was a third year student nurse doing part of her clinical training when one of her young patients had a cardiac arrest one shift and Robert came to the rescue.  

“I came in with the cardiac defibrillator and cardioverted the patient into normal rhythm.  You can say that ‘it was love at first shock’. Corny but true!”

His career highlight to date, apart from giving the prestigious Invited Cardiovascular Nurse Lecture at the Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand this year on the Gold Coast, was receiving the Alan Goble Distinguished Service Award in 2021 for recognition of extraordinary service to cardiovascular health and rehabilitation in Australia by the Australian Cardiovascular Health and Rehabilitation Association.

Robert added a very close second would be “my dual publications of my first authored papers entitled ‘Is nurse supervised exercised stress testing safe practice?’ in the Heart and Lung journal in 1999 and ‘Development of Quality Indicators for Cardiac Rehabilitation in Australia: A Modified Delphi Method and Pilot Test’ in the Heart Lung and Circulation in 2019.

He recently presented a paper in Spain titled ‘A blueprint for the continuation of comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation during the COVID-19 pandemic. An Australian single hospital experience’.

“Around 75% of cardiac rehabilitation programs around the world either closed down, reduced services and/or reverted to telehealth according to an international survey of over 1000 programs. Here in WSLHD we were not only able to stay open during the pandemic but actually increased enrolments and continued face-to-face assessments and exercise while taking in consideration the prevailing Public Health Orders.”

Robert conducts a large portion of research collaborations in his own time.

I believe that nursing research is the foundation of evidence-based patient centric care.  Doing research in your own time can promote independence, satisfaction, and decrease impediments that doing research during work hours can incur.”

Robert Zecchin

Most recently Robert was the invited speaker, opening for the cardiovascular nursing prize session at the cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand (CSANZ) 2022 Conference and presented his talk ‘In the Footsteps of Cardiovascular Giants. A Reflective Journey of Collaboration, Collegiality and Change as a Nurse Clinician-Researcher’.  

“The talk was about the influences that other cardiovascular researchers had on my research career as a clinician which included the late Professor John Uther AO, the current Medical Director of Cardiology at Westmead Hospital Professor Robert Denniss, Professor Trish Davidson – currently the Vice Chancellor of the University of Wollongong and former Nursing Dean of Johns Hopkins University in the USA and Professor Robyn Gallagher Professor of Nursing at the Charles Perkins Centre at the University of Sydney.”