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Thoms to head up new college

The Australian College of Nursing has appointed Adjunct Professor Debra Thoms as the inaugural CEO. Here she speaks with Linda Belardi about her priorities and passion for the unified professional peak body.

The unification of the Royal College of Nursing, Australia and The College of Nursing is an opportunity to shape the future direction of the profession, says the newly appointed chief executive, Debra Thoms.

“The Australian College of Nursing represents an absolute opportunity for the profession to come behind [the college] and have a more unified voice around critical health issues in this country,” she told Nursing Review.

Expanding the college’s influence and growing its membership were listed as leading priorities.

“I’d like to see that the college becomes seen as an organisation that is the credible organisation to go to when you want to know about nursing matters,” said Thoms, who is currently the NSW Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer with the NSW Department of Health.

Thoms said she brought to the new role a keen understanding of how government operates and an awareness of the complexity of the health sector. She was also keen to ensure broad health stakeholders understood the “potential value-add” of nursing.

If the college is to remain relevant to its members, ACN has to be seen as a way for members to influence the health agenda in this country, she said. “Other parts of the community and the sector need to see the college as being an organisation that is a source of good information and knowledge and understanding around nursing, so that it draws upon it.”

Thoms said building the policy voice of nursing was a challenging area where nurses could do better. “We would certainly like our voice to be heard more,” she said. “One of the things that I am most looking forward to in the ACN role is having a broad, whole of health viewpoint and being able to be engaged very broadly in issues,” she said.

The role of nurses in national health reform, the shift to more primary care models and the future roles and functions of nursing were key issues for the profession. “The other critical issue is engaging and ensuring that the new nurses entering the workforce feel that they can make a contribution and that they are going to remain within the profession for the long term,” she said.

Engaging existing nurse leaders to mentor future nurses was crucial, she said.

Kathy Baker, co-chair of the transitional board of ACN, said with further expansion in the future, the college could become the Australasian peak body for nurses. Reinventing the college with a broader health focus was an important new direction, she said.

Co-chair, Stephanie Fox-Young agreed. “Nursing tends to be very inward looking and this is going to be an opportunity to be much more open to community interaction. We want to develop a broader perspective of nursing and care and how that all impacts on the health system,” said Fox-Young.

Baker said that expansion of e-learning opportunities and tapping into the expertise of members were other important priorities.

Thoms will take up the new position on May 28. She has held positions in the Northern Territory,

South Australia and NSW including executive director of the Royal Women’s Hospital in Sydney; CEO of Macquarie Area Health Service; and area director nursing and community development, South Eastern Sydney Area Health Service.

In 2004 she took up the position of chief nursing officer in South Australia and since 2006 has been with the NSW Department of Health.

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