CEO files: Sue Channon of Virtus Health

Written by Blog Admin
08 Nov

*This article was first published by Business Chicks

There are just 11 female CEOs at the helm of ASX 200 listed companies. In 2018, that figure seems absurd, yet here we are.

Sue began her career in nursing in a small town in New Zealand. Working as an operating theatre manager in a highly stressful environment, she experienced the kind of “life-threatening situations” that proved the perfect training ground for her role as CEO of Virtus Health.  

How do you think your early nursing experience set you up for your later success?

When I started out as a nurse, I didn’t plan or expect to be in the position I am today. I’ve always enjoyed the creativity, the challenges, the sense of achievement in leading a team and growing and developing a business. I initially commenced my career in the health sector in nursing, and I’ve been in healthcare leadership roles for the past 25 years.

I guess it was those highly stressful and tense situations that have helped me develop resilience and a high degree of organisational and time management skills. As a result of that, I can manage a reasonably heavy workload, and I can have many balls in the air at any one time which, you can imagine, is required in a role like this.

My background in nursing also gives me a very clear appreciation of the day-to-day workings of clinical practice. That helps me understand the tensions and the competing priorities that can occur within the healthcare environment, and it helps me to make decisions that are right for the staff and doctors working at the coalface.

Now you oversee a company that employs 1,300 staff and is responsible for 20,000 IVF cycles globally. Can you pinpoint a time when wanted to become CEO?

When I started my nursing career in the late 70s, career options for women were not as diverse as they are now, so I (at that time) never thought about ever being a CEO. But I’ve always been focused and worked hard, I had no expectations that I’d be a CEO of a public company or even achieve what I have accomplished.

During my career, I spent 15 years at a company called Mayne Health. And in that company, I held fairly senior leadership roles including CEO of Hospitals and National Director of Nursing, and that’s where I developed my strategic leadership and business experience. And that was accelerated in that organisation by the support of quite an amazing group of mature and experienced healthcare leaders. It was working in that large organisation, which was a public company, in senior leadership roles that gave me the drive to aspire to what some of those leaders were doing.

What was your vision when you stepped into the CEO role at Virtus Health?

When I first came into Virtus Health, it was called IVF Australia, and we were just a small group of 12 doctors, 60 staff; we were doing around 1600 IVF cycles a year, and we only had a presence in New South Wales. As I came in, the doctors that I worked with had the vision to create an organisation that would outlive their individual careers; to create and be Australia’s leading fertility provider. So that was a vision that they had, so what we’ve done is we’ve brought together Australia’s leading fertility specialists, scientists, researchers, nurses, counsellors and support staff to provide the very best in fertility care and the services that go with that – that was the collective vision. 

And where are you at with that vision now?

We have developed what we set out to do; Virtus Health is one of the most successful medical collaborations in the world. We are the largest network of fertility services in Australia. And it’s that expertise, that combined expertise that we have which is unique. We have a very powerful body of knowledge which, with our specialists and staff, means we can provide new and advanced solutions to achieving success or achieving a baby for patients.

It’s been an amazing journey, but nothing is achieved alone, you need to set a vision, and you need to bring the team with you. And that’s what my role is; to make sure that happens.

What’s your biggest leadership lesson?

Don’t do it on your own. You need to have passion and commitment for what you’re doing, and you need to be able to bring a team with you, and they need to be able to trust you. You need to have a high degree of integrity and honesty in the work that you do. I think people would say that with me ‘what you see is what you get.’ I’m open and honest with the team that I work with.

There aren’t many publicly listed companies in Australia that have a female as the Group CEO, what do you think has helped you succeed?

I haven’t been focused on the fact that I’m a female CEO in a public company, you just sort of get there. What I have been focused on, however, is making sure that our organisation try to create an environment that encourages our team, that provides them with the tools that they need to be able to provide the best service and outcomes to our patients. The fact I found myself CEO of a public company was really secondary to the job that we were doing and the organisation that we were trying to create. I think it’s my ability to listen and take on board what others are thinking and being able to connect to people at the right time that has really helped me succeed.

Have you ever experienced any gender inequality in your career progression?

No, because I work in healthcare where a large portion of the workforce are women. We have a workforce that is over 85% female, and there are a large number of women in healthcare moving into management and are encouraged to do so, so I’ve not experienced any gender inequality or glass ceilings. Many of the males in senior management that I’ve worked with have been incredibly encouraging to me to put my hand up. I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I hadn’t been encouraged by the men in the workforce that I was working in, but I am aware that I work in a fairly unique sector and this isn’t the situation in many other workplaces.

How important do you think it is to be a female leader in a fertility company?

I started my family quite late in life. I was 37 when I had my first child, and I had a number of fertility issues, so I can relate to the extreme pressures and the journey that our patients are on. While we treat infertility, we see one of our most important roles as educators, and not everyone is going to achieve a pregnancy. Our partnership with Business Chicks is important because of the very large number of women that your organisation touches. Women like me, who were focused on a career, financial security and really underestimated the impact that age has on your fertility. This partnership is about informing women and giving them an understanding of what is going to affect their ability to have a family. I think being a female working in an organisation that provides services for infertility, gives me a little bit of an edge over maybe a male being in that sort of role.

You mentioned your own challenging fertility journey, how do you think that experience has  shaped the leader you are today?

I’ve been able to build a workplace culture that supports the lives of our staff and families. Because families are important and it’s critical for a healthy working environment to be able to have work-life balance. I was fortunate on my fertility journey. I now have two children, they’re adults now, aged 23 and 25. But not everyone can achieve that goal, and I hope that I’ve been able to create an environment that prepares our patients for a journey without children if they do not achieve the success they desire.

Has there been a time in your career where you’ve lost confidence or questioned your ability?

There’s always going to be times where you think, ‘Oh my God, have I made the right decision?’ Coming from a nursing background, I questioned my ability; when I took on things like private equity and the IPO, they were way out of my comfort zone. And it wasn’t what I was trained to do when I started my career in nursing. You have to have confidence in yourself and be resilient. I bounce back quickly. I think I can move forward quite quickly. If I get knocked down, I just get up and keep going.

What do you think sets great leaders apart?

People want their leaders to be credible and have a sense of direction, be honest and trustworthy, forward-looking, inspiring and competent. And if you have those attributes, people will follow you. You have to be able to listen and take on board other’s thoughts, so if people have a better idea than you, be prepared to take that.

Do you think it’s important to leave a legacy, and do you have one?

Yes, from a Virtus perspective, I’d like to make sure I leave behind an organisation that is the first choice for those with fertility issues wishing to create a family. I want to be the Mayo Clinic of fertility so that Virtus can provide for every aspect relating to reproductive health and beyond – that’s my legacy.

What advice would you give to females around their career aspirations or if they’re the only one with a seat at the table?

Follow your desires, and follow the journey. If you want to be in a leadership position, you’ll get there. And if you’re one of the only women at the table, remember that you’re there for a reason. Your strengths and your ability has helped you achieve a place in that senior leadership position. Have confidence in yourself, stay true to your core values, don’t compromise and use the strengths of the team around you. Make sure you have the right people around you that can back you and be prepared to back them as well.


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There’s a sperm donor shortage in Australia – but only 20% of men know about it

The leading fertility clinics in the Virtus Health group, including IVF Australia, Melbourne IVF and Queensland Fertility Group, have joined forces to research sperm donation in Australia

What did we find out about Sperm Donation?

Only 20% of men are aware that there is a shortage of sperm donors in this country.
While the majority of Australians are aware of the need for blood and organ donation, the requirement for sperm donors is largely unknown.
Used by patients as either part of an In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) cycle, or via Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), donor sperm can help overcome male factor infertility (15%), or help same-sex couples (35%) and single women (50%) have a child.

What are the common motivations for donation?

The same research also discovered that the common reasons for wanting to donate sperm included:

  • Helping others to have a family (38%)
  • Knowing other people going through fertility treatment (24%)
  • Knowing my sperm count and quality could be assessed at donation (20%)
  • Everyone deserves to be a parent if they want to be (18%)

Sperm donors in Australia can be known to the recipient or recruited via the clinic. Many couples and individuals choose their sperm donor through a clinic, as knowing the demographic profile of the donor but not their identity is a preferred option. In these cases, children of sperm donors are able to access their biological father’s details when they are 18 years old.
While Australians cannot be paid for their sperm (like blood or organ donation) most clinics reimburse donors for legitimate expenses. Sperm donors in Australia are typically aged 25-45, with or without their own families, and of any sexual orientation.

Would you or someone you know now consider sperm donation?

After seeing the results of this research, we want to raise awareness of the need for more sperm donors in Australia. If it is something that you would consider talk to your local clinic for more information.

Sperm Donation in Australia Infographic

Sperm Donation in Australia infographic


* Research conducted by Woolcott Research in March 2012. 
Blog Admin
08 Nov

Mediterranean diet – can it influence IVF results?

UK scientists will examine the effects of a Mediterranean diet rich in omega-3 fish oil and vitamin D on fertility for women and couples undergoing In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF).

Common sense would suggest that preconception health of both women and men could play a role in the Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) treatment outcome. We all know that a healthy lifestyle and good nutrition influences the quality of egg and sperm in the preconception period, therefore increasing the chances of a successful pregnancy.

What is a Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean style diet is high in fruits, vegetables, fish, wholegrain, nuts and seeds. It is limited in red meat, dairy, alcohol and processed foods such as cakes and mayonnaise2

In 2010 a Dutch study showed that preconception Mediterranean style diet in couples undergoing ART treatment increases chances of achieving pregnancy by 40% 2.

More evidence of Mediterranean diet’s benefits

Omega-3 fatty acids are derived from oily fish sources such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, nuts and seeds. Omega-3 serves as a precursor to different prostaglandins (PGs) that are important in the menstrual cycle, growth and development of eggs and initiation of the ovulation. PGs also play a role in fertilization of the embryo in the uterus.2

Vitamin D is derived from dietary oily fish and eggs. It appears to impact IVF outcomes by boosting levels of progesterone and estrogen, which regulates menstrual cycles improving the chance of conception.

You may be thinking what about men? Vitamin D also benefits semen quality and count in males. Additionally, it increases levels of testosterone, boosting libido. 3

Current guidelines suggest to prescreen all women before IVF. Optimal vitamin D levels are considered to be 75m/mol or above. We commonly prescribe vitamin D doses ranging from 1000-5000iu a day. Dosage recommended in infertility depends on the  blood levels. If you are very deficient it may be hard to obtain sufficient amounts of Vitamin D from the diet alone and supplements are highly recommended.4

But, do these positive results from dietary omega-3 and vitamin D, translate into positive results from supplementation?

The answer is we don’t know yet. Vitamins and minerals absorb more effectively from food sources. There are other co-factors in food that increase vitamin and nutrient activation in the body. Nevertheless, both omega-3 and vitamin D supplements have a low side effects profile and are safe before, during and after (breastfeeding stage) pregnancy.

One other likely benefit of the Mediterranean diet to fertility is its high vitamin B content. Vitamin B6 and B12, as well as Folate, is required to breakdown homocysteine, a naturally occurring amino acid found in blood plasma. Elevated levels of homocysteine are associated with adverse reproductive and pregnancy outcomes. This is why adequate intake of Folate, B6 and B12 is recommended for women who are trying to conceive either spontaneously or via IVF. In another blog I will discuss the significance of homocysteine pathway and its link to the quality of sperm and egg.2

What does this mean if you’re undergoing IVF?

Following a Mediterranean diet may increase your chances of achieving pregnancy through IVF. Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D play an important role though further research is still required to confirm this link.

Currently there are no specific guidelines on what constitutes a Mediterranean diet and optimal quantities of certain foods in order to make a routine recommendation. IVF patients may benefit from a nutrition assessment by a clinical dietitian or a naturopath who can review their dietary habits and develop a food plan.

In the case of Vitamin D, given the current prevalence of deficiency in sub-fertile women and men, and difficulty deriving enough from diet alone, supplementation alongside ART treatment may be recommended in most cases.

References: 1, Mediterranean diet trial targets IVF boost. The Australian. 25 Mar 2014. Available: [].  Accessed:  [27 Mar 2014]. 2, Vujkovic M, De Vries JH, Lindemans J, Macklon NS, Van Der Spek PJ, Steegers EA, Steegers-Theunissen PM. The preconception Mediterranean dietary pattern in couples undergoing in vitro fertilization/intracytoplasmic sperm injection treatment increases the change of pregnancy. Fertility and sterility Vol. 94, No 6, November 2010. 3, Lerchbaum E, Obermayer-Pietsch B. Vitamin D and fertility – a systematic review. European Society of Endocrinology. 24 January 2012. 4, Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council. Clinical Practice guideline: Antenatal Care – Module 1. Australian Government Department of Health and Aging, Canberra. 31 August 2012. Available: []. Accessed: [27 Mar 2014].

Has following a Mediterranean diet worked for you?

Blog Admin
08 Nov

Current study: Can acupuncture support IVF treatment?

Many people use complementary or alternative therapies to improve their overall physical and emotional health. Some women also consider using these therapies to prepare their body for pregnancy or support them through fertility treatment.

Why are women turning to Acupuncture while undergoing IVF?

Acupuncture has grown in popularity in Australia as an adjunct to IVF treatment and is claimed to reduce stress, improve the quality of life while you’re undertaking treatment, and stimulate blood flow to the uterus influencing menstrual cycle and ovulation.

Some limited studies have shown that acupuncture on the day of embryo transfer, within an IVF cycle, may improve implantation rates although it should also be borne in mind that some recent studies have not found acupuncture to be effective.

Background on the current study into IVF and Acupuncture

The clinics within the Virtus Health group, including IVFAustralia, Melbourne IVF and Queensland Fertility Group, are continually investing in research projects that seek to improve health and reproductive outcomes for patients. In some cases this involves working together with complementary therapists to maximise patient fertility. An example of this is the relationships that have been setup between acupuncture clinics in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs and the Bondi Junction IVFAustralia clinic.

A current research project that IVFAustralia and Melbourne IVF are involved in is a national multi-centre randomised controlled acupuncture trial in conjunction with The University of Western Sydney. The purpose is to formally investigate the effectiveness, or not, of acupuncture in improving the proportion of live birth rates for women undergoing in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

What are the expected outcomes of this trial?

This study will determine the cost effectiveness of IVF with acupuncture, assess the personal and social context of acupuncture on IVF patients and identify other effects of acupuncture.

It will add significant knowledge to defining the exact role of acupuncture in the management of IVF from a clinical and cost effectiveness perspective. Any way that we can reduce the number of cycles it takes for our patients to achieve a healthy pregnancy, is likely to have a positive emotional and financial impact on that family.

However, regardless of the outcome of this trial, while improving your general health and wellbeing is clearly beneficial, acupuncture is not for everyone and varied opinions reflect the limited evidence on its effectiveness.

Who is eligible to take part?

We are currently recruiting IVF Australia and Melbourne IVF patients interested in taking part in the trial.

To participate you must: be less than 43 years of age, be undergoing a fresh IVF or Intracystoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) cycle; and not be undergoing a pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) cycle.

Participants in the trial will receive their treatments on the day of embryo transfer – administered by experienced acupuncturists – at research partnered IVF units in clinics across Australia.

If you want to find out more or register for the trial, contact IVF Australia or Melbourne IVF.

Read more: Complementary Therapies for Pregnancy (NSW), Adjuvant Therapy & IVF Treatment (Melbourne), Complementary Therapies & Fertility (QLD)

Blog Admin
08 Nov

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