In the 1980s, a passionate Melbourne emergency nurse co-authored an educational book on urinary incontinence. After never hearing back from publishers, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
The result was not only a bestseller but the founding of what is today known as nursing education and technology company Ausmed Education.
Cynthea Wellings, chief executive of Ausmed, has come a long way since establishing the company in 1987. Today the organisation is one of the largest providers of CPD education for nurses and is responsible for the planning of more than 300 conferences in 2014 alone.
In addition to her business success, Wellings was recently named amongst the Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence. Labelling it a “wonderful surprise”, Wellings says she was “pleased to be able to fly the flag for Australia’s nursing community”.
“I believe there were two of us with a nursing background who were recognised – Ged Kearney, president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and myself,” she says. “Nursing is such an important profession and the vast majority of us are female so it was very important that we were represented at this prestigious event.”
Wellings spoke to Nursing Review about her career highlights, professional motivations and where to now.
NR: Congratulations on being recognised as one of the 100 Women of Influence. Nursing is clearly a profession for which you have a great passion. What drives this ongoing passion?
CW: I have always believed that nursing is not like most other professions. It is a special profession. Nurses are required to deal with the human condition at its rawest and many other professions simply are not in this space. The [need for the] convergence of personal integrity, ethical behaviour, education, experience, and the ability to think well and convert all of this into meaningful action creates a high bar. This is not a skill that can be quickly developed through a one-off educational program. It needs nurturing and practice and ongoing education and support.
So why am I passionate about nursing? Well, I profoundly believe it is essential that society recognises some professions need to exist not for monetary expedience but rather for the sake of creating and maintaining humane, caring societies. Nursing is one of these professions and I do not believe there are many.
A builder does not have to confront the life-and-death issues, the joy and the grief that can be a routine part of a nurse’s day. I genuinely believe the world is a better place for the work nurses do and, therefore, I committed my working life to supporting this aspect of humanity.
I do believe that if nursing is to survive it needs to reset the dial on how politicians value the work we do. They need to understand how this profession adds to a society in all sorts of ways and pivot away from the incessant chants about monetary and sustainability efficiencies. There are other ways to measure outputs and nurses need to broadcast this more.
I congratulate the Australian College of Nursing for focusing on leadership, as this shows great foresight in guiding the profession into the future. It steers the thinking of nurses towards being in front instead of coming up the rear of the challenges that are rapidly emerging. Leadership should be part of all educational endeavours, as it is intrinsic to the art of nursing.
I have read you originally had a great passion for accident and emergency nursing. What prompted your move away from traditional nursing career pathways into a role more focused on education and management?
I loved the adrenaline and fast pace the trauma-unit environment offered me – it suited my personality and I always functioned best in a rapidly evolving space. It was here that I learned to clinically reason and the importance of working in a team.
As my career matured, however, I needed different challenges and entrepreneurial nursing offered this to me in bucketloads. When you branch out to create your own work environment you have to rise to a lot of challenges.
As Ausmed has grown, the management challenges have naturally increased. I am highly committed to education and insatiably engage in vast amounts of personal learning experiences. I think this is why Ausmed has been so successful and management issues have been minimal.
You founded Ausmed in 1987 and continue today as chief executive and publishing editor. There have been so many changes in education delivery since then. What have been some of the highlights for you?
Ausmed started by accident. I had written a book on urinary incontinence with a geriatrician, David Fonda. We sent the script, nicely packaged, to several major northern hemisphere companies for consideration for publication. We never heard another word. Not even an acknowledgement that it had been received. So I decided to publish the book myself. The end result was astonishing. It was a rampant bestseller for a nursing/medical book and was positively reviewed in a raft of prestigious journals. Without doubt it was an Australian success story and an early highlight of my career.
Another highlight was the development of seminars and conferences, which we commenced in the early 1990s. This has proven to be a creative side of Ausmed’s work. This education engages many thousands of nurses each year and is consistently evaluated highly by participants, which is rewarding.
Finally, the achievement of an American Nurse Credentialing Center accreditation for our online video learning activities was definitely a highlight. ANCC are responsible for Magnet hospital status so this meant a lot to us. We put a huge amount of work into this activity. It paid off. We achieved accreditation with distinction, which was a real feather in our cap, as the bar is very, very high. Having this accreditation keeps us on our toes, as ANCC have strict criteria we have to continually meet and this has created a culture of fantastic internal discipline and rigor.
Online nurse education appears to be generally unregulated across the world. This is a concern, as there is a lot of old and tired material out there. We wanted to ensure we were following best practice from the outset and accreditation enabled us to do this. It is important for nurses to check they are sourcing their CPD from reputable providers and that the education is evidence-based and current.
You have been described as an entrepreneurial nurse. What’s your message to nurses who are looking to follow less traditional nursing career paths?
There are some fantastic nurse entrepreneurs working in Australia today. I have encountered many throughout my career. This is not a new phenomenon. Often they have taken traditional routes such as creating consultancy businesses, which offer a broad range of services to aged care, education, management and human resource policy areas, to name but a few. Ausmed has consistently supported many nurses who have worked in their own private practice by using their services.
In the technology space, entrepreneurial nurses also stand out. Technology has offered them a pipeline to market, which has resulted in remarkable creativity. I would encourage them wholeheartedly in these endeavours.
How do you forecast nursing education and technology changing over the next five years?
This is the big question being debated in every educational facility around the world – not just in schools of nursing.
Put simply, I would be surprised if nursing does not significantly change within the next few years but more so in the next 10–15 years. There are many reasons for this.
I believe future nursing education will need to continually adapt as the true impact of disruptive technologies has not yet taken effect. Global health trends will continue to profoundly affect Australian nurse education downstream. These trends include:
- the increasing commoditisation of healthcare (driven by growing consumer demand and insufficient funding)
- the development of new efficiencies of healthcare delivery from countries such as India and China. These countries have a pressing need to improve patient outputs for their enormous populations within a framework of minuscule budgets; what is learned in these nations is likely to flow on to Western countries
- the immense and diverse range of technological advances that are altering our perception and management of disease
- Automation and sustainability inputs
- the flow-on effects of Obamacare (which should not be underestimated); and on and on.
Increasing specialisation seems inevitable and working to the full scope of practice will be expected. The next five years will probably see moderate but disruptive changes. Those who steer their educational programs in the right direction now will reap the benefits in the long term because they will put time between them and others who have less foresight.
What are your plans for Ausmed Education in the future?
The future for Ausmed Education is bright. We are intent on exporting more of our online educational services to nurses in the northern hemisphere. This is good for Australia, as it showcases our healthcare system through the provision of nurse education. This, in turn, could open up ancillary export markets for others to benefit from, all of which improves the local economy.
Ausmed Education has a strong technology capability and this is a real strength for us. Our face-to-face education remains a joy because the feedback is strong and positive. There are still a lot of challenges ahead but it is an exciting time for nursing, as the opportunities are big for those who can see them.Do you have an idea for a story?
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