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Bryant’s career in perspective

As an activist for nurses and patients, Rosemary Bryant has made giant steps. She speaks to Amie Larter about her working life.

Rosemary Bryant has had a distinguished career in nursing, currently holding the position of Commonwealth chief nurse and midwifery officer – the first person in Australia to hold the position.

A past executive director of the Royal College of Nursing (now ACN), Bryant has recently stepped down from her four-year stint as 26th president of the International Council of Nurses (ICN).

She sat down with Nursing Review at the recent ICN conference in Melbourne to give us an insight into what has made her the leader she is today.

NR: Who has inspired you in your journey to becoming the leader you are today?

Rosemary: There have been a number of people across my career, but Pamela Spry was my director of nursing for many years when I was younger … and she became my mentor. Although we didn’t use that terminology then!

She was intelligent, practical and sensible, and also an activist, but very clear that what she was doing was making or influencing a better system for nurses so that we could provide better care for patients at the Royal Adelaide Hospital – where we were at back then.

She was not frightened to speak up to put the nursing view, and as a consequence she was able to get to a very high level within the South Australian health system in the broader health system.

So we can’t just look inwards. In order to be influential we have got to try and work outwards into the broader health system, because there are lots of different powerplays in that health system.

NR: When did you first move into more of a leadership role and what is it you love about being a nursing leader?

Rosemary: I started being an activist when I was a student nurse, so I think that maybe not overt but it’s always been in my mind about being a leader in nursing.

The main positive is that you are in a position to be able to change the system and I have been able to do that through my career. Starting off at lower level and then moving up to the jobs I have had more recently – being able to change the system. For me it’s is about making the environment better for nurses, so that they can then deliver a high standard of care and meet the needs of the population. So it’s a two-stage thing – my influence as a nurse is really with nurses and the health system; but your ultimate goal as leader must be to provide better care assist to the population that you are serving.

NR: Why is it important? How can we go about ensuring Australia has a strong base of nursing leaders?

Rosemary: Well, it’s important because of the role that nurses play in the health system. We have got to have nursing leaders because we have got to have the right environment, conditions for nurses to be able to deliver care.

So that’s why we need to have strong nurse leader at all levels. So at clinical levels – at ward or unit level – right through to in the broader health system. We have all got our bit to play in the various arenas where decisions are made. As a role model, it is really important to inspire others.

NR: What was the reason behind your choice for equity and access as the theme for the recent ICN congress?

Rosemary: Each ICN president has what we call a watchword or a theme for his/ her presidency – only “her” thus far. So I chose “access” as my watch word. Along with access comes equity – they kind of go together and that has been our theme.

We also had it for our international nurses’ day kit, which was May 12 – Florence Nightingale’s birthday – so that’s why access and equity came together as the theme for the congress.

We received over 3000 abstracts, and 600 were chosen. So it was clearly a theme that which touched many nurses, as being very relevant to their work because most nurses around the world are very aware of the benefits of healthcare and their roles and how they can help – their work benefits the health of the population.

ICN chief executive officer David Benton

“I really enjoyed working with Rosemary as a president, because she actually knows what needs to be done, she prioritises the steps, she pursues them but she does it in a way where people actually feel engaged and supported.

“Rosemary brings humour to it; she diffuses a situation but is also very clear that she has got to get to the end of the road. That determination with that really warm approach allows her to bring people with her – they follow and support her.”

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