Nurse leadership from the ward to the board makes a significant contribution to health care – by Debra Thoms – CEO Australian College of Nursing

Debra Thoms ACN“Our health truly is our wealth, and the Australian College of Nursing (ACN) firmly believes that access to good health is the right of every single Australian, regardless of background or health status. However there are a number of major challenges currently facing the health care system such as caring for an ageing population increasingly affected by chronic disease; managing rising health care costs and funding cuts; technological change and the need to maintain, and in some cases, improve safety and quality in health care. These concerns are an ongoing priority for health professionals and the community alike.

Nurses are at the forefront of patient care and along with midwives, they make up more than 50% of all registered health practitioners in Australia. Yet this contribution is not always as valued as it could and should be. ACN’s role, as the national professional organisation for all nurse leaders, advocates for the nursing profession, advancing the skills and expertise of nurses to provide leadership in their contribution to the delivery of health care.

Nurse leaders make a significant contribution to health care in Australia. Whilst a complex, multifaceted process, nursing leadership is fundamentally about creating a long-term strategic vision, driving change and developing a shared mission to tackle political, organisational and resource barriers. With that knowledge base in place, nurse leaders are in a solid position to help design models of care that can make a real difference to people’s lives.

Nurse leaders also play a critical role in maintaining the productivity and cost effectiveness of both nursing and health services as a whole and have significant influence on the financial performance which ultimately impacts an organisation’s ability to deliver high-quality patient services and outcomes.

A positive work environment is key for creating better patient outcomes. Through their leadership role in an organisation, the impact of nurse leaders in creating and supporting a positive work environment for nursing staff is critical.

And above all else, nurse leaders inspire and motivate individuals and teams to achieve better patient outcomes. A concept not just applicable to those in positions of management, nurse leaders can be found at all levels of the health care system, from the ward’s nursing unit manager, to state and federal governments, executive positions and within the academic setting.

leadership in nursingOne of the challenges faced by the profession today is that nurses, and in particular some senior nurse leaders, are not always given the authority and accountability to be a force for change to enhance Australia’s health care services. It is the ACN’s goal to ensure the community and broader health systems understand the key contribution nurse leaders can make to further advance the health care of all Australians.

A career in nursing is not only extremely rewarding, it can open up a world of opportunities and pathways aside from the operational/clinical aspect. Successful nurse leaders have broad capabilities that can successfully translate to positions such as a General Manager of a hospital or Vice Chancellor of a University. My own career in nursing, health management and nursing leadership is a case in point highlighting that anything is possible.

After working as a clinical nurse, I completed a Master of Nursing Administration. During my career, I have held positions including Deputy Director and Director of Nursing, Director of Nursing and Executive Director of the Royal Hospital for Women in Sydney, Chief Executive Officer of the then Macquarie Area Health Service, NSW, Chief Nursing Officer at the Department of Health, South Australia, Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer at the now Ministry of Health, NSW.

Australian College of NursingNursing connects people unlike any other occupation. It is that bond that continues to inspire me and drives me forward. I’ve seen firsthand how vital the relationships created with patients, through face-to-face engagement and communication, are to the provision of excellent care. I also believe now, more than ever, there is a real opportunity for us at ACN, and for those nurses with an interest in leadership and those aspiring to leadership roles to be the catalysts of change; to build a health care system which is effective, efficient and responsive to the needs of all Australians.

For more information on nurse leadership download a copy of ACN’s White Paper or visit

About Debra Thoms, Adjunct Professor and CEO of ACN (Australian College of Nursing)
RN, RM, BA, MNA, Adv Dip Arts, Grad Cert Bioethics, FACN (DLF), GIA(Cert), FACHSM (Hon)

Debra Thoms ACNAdjunct Professor and CEO of ACN (Australian College of Nursing) Debra Thoms’ career in nursing, health management and nursing leadership spans over thirty years. During this time Debra has worked as a clinical nurse in NSW, as well as in remote areas of the Northern Territory. She has also held positions of Deputy Director, Director of Nursing as well as Chief Nursing Officer at the Department of Health. Having taught nursing management at UTS for several years, Debra was awarded an Adjunct Professorship from UTS in 2002, and holds an Adjunct Professor appointment with the University of Sydney.

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Image (arrows) Naypong –

Other images courtesy Australian College of Nursing

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