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Mentoring tomorrow’s nursing leaders

The first participants in a national Emerging Nurse Leader Program talk to Linda Belardi about their ambitions, inspirations and the changes they would like to see.

They are all smart, articulate and passionate about nursing - meet the future leaders of the profession. As the first cohort of the inaugural Emerging Nurse Leader Program developed by the College of Nursing, they embody the potential of nursing and signal an important attempt by the profession to actively nurture its young talent.

The five Emerging Nurse Leaders for 2012 were chosen from 33 applicants from across Australia and from a diverse age range of second- and third-year nursing students. They share interests in indigenous health and rural Australia; in providing care to the most disadvantaged communities both here and in the developing world; and a strong commitment to enhancing the profession.

Patricia Fox from Central Queensland University is a third-generation nurse and has developed a strong interest in cardiac care and rural health. As a mature-age student from Bundaberg, Fox says she was keen to become involved in the profession beyond the four walls of the lecture theatre. Her involvement in local community programs has also given her a taste for leadership.

“I would like to be in a position where I can make change, whether that’s in a policy or a clinical environment. Initially, I’d like to remain clinically-based as I believe you can’t lead people if you haven’t done it once.”

In particular, Fox says she would like to investigate ways to improve healthcare in rural Australia. “You often take it for granted when you live on the coast that you are able to have timely access to healthcare but on large rural properties it’s a very different story. I’m very interested to see how regional health is addressed in the next few years. I think everyone should have equal access to healthcare regardless of where they live.”

She says the opportunity to pursue her individual interests and skills within a team environment is an important part of the program. The Emerging Nurse Leader initiative is a five-year mentorship program that will expose young nurses to the world of policy, business and academia.

The recipients are encouraged to develop their individual strengths and passions, whilst developing a broad range of networks and interprofessional connections. Each year, an additional five students will be inducted in to the rolling program, so by 2016 the profession will have a cohort of 25 Emerging Nurse Leaders.

In their final year, each participant will be involved in a major change project, designed to address a key area of need in Australian nursing or health.

For Elyse Taylor, a second-year student at the University of Canberra, the program offers opportunities that are currently not available to nursing students. “I’m looking forward to getting to know influential people in the nursing field and to learn from a diverse range of mentors throughout the program.”

Having grown up in Vietnam and Indonesia, she has been immersed in culturally diverse communities and has developed an interest in multicultural nursing and providing culturally competent care.

Taylor recently returned from a trip to Utopia in the Northern Territory, which she described as “eye opening”. She has identified the need to tailor healthcare to a local context. She is also the current president of the Canberra Rural Health and Nursing and Allied Health Collective, which aims to promote rural and remote health work to school students.

“Giving nurses the most skills possible to be able to contribute to the healthcare of Australia is a particular aspiration. I think nurses need to be a lot more empowered and feel like they have control over the care they deliver to patients and communities.”

Sherrie Lee from Central Queensland University has also been enriched professionally by international travel. Having just returned from Nepal in December, Lee is already planning future healthcare missions to the Solomon Islands to support communities most in need.

“One quality of being a good registered nurse is leadership and being able to be the person in the room who can handle the pressure. By attending conferences and networking, I hope to enrich my ability to communicate and work together with others.”

Having experienced her own health battles in the past, health is a field she says she understands well. Her time in Nepal has also sparked her interest in midwifery and in developing cultural competence.

Catherine Ryan, from the Australian Catholic University, is passionate about rural and indigenous health. She says universities need to offer more opportunities for students to undertake clinical placements in regional and remote locations. The current approach is inconsistent and does not offer enough accommodation to students. “By increasing students’ exposure to these environments, we can help build our rural and remote health workforce.”

Lauralea Bickhoff, a second-year student at Newcastle University, says she wants to address the current level of disillusionment she has witnessed in the profession. “The only people who have asked me why I am doing nursing are other nurses. I want a profession that advocates for nurses.”

As a former pharmacy technician for 10 years, Bickhoff understands the importance of interprofessional practice and hopes to research the development of collaborative relationships.

Improving the retention rate in nursing is also a policy interest. “If we can improve retention of nurses by a mere 20 per cent then we won’t have a nursing shortage any more. That’s a startling statistic.”

Tracey Osmond, chief executive of the College of Nursing said she was impressed by the quality of the applications the college received and believed the future of nursing was in great hands.

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