Q&A with Gary Lees

1 April 2013

Gary Lees came to New Zealand to take up his current position as nursing director of Lakes DHB and went on to become chair of nurse leaders group NENZ. Find out how an interest in psychology lead him to nursing, how he helps out his kids on a Sunday and why his chain mail shirt is getting rusty...

Q & A: Gary Lees

JOB TITLE: Director of nursing and midwifery, Lakes District Health Board and chair of Nurse Executives of New Zealand (NENZ)

Q: Where and when did you train?
A: I trained in the United Kingdom at the Bedfordshire school of nursing. I was in the last group to go through under the old hospital-based training and graduated in 1984

Q: Other qualifications/professional roles?
A: Before nursing I gained a BSc (Hons) in psychology. Probably where my interest in mental health care started. Since becoming a nurse I have gained an MA in social policy and social administration and a postgraduate diploma in leadership across multi-agency settings. I am a fellow of the Institute of Leadership and Management (UK) and an associate fellow of the ACHSM (Australasian College of Health Management). I am currently the chair of Nurse Executives of New Zealand (NENZ).

Q: When and why did you decide to become a nurse?
A: During my childhood I always wanted to be a marine biologist. Then somebody lent me a book on psychology and I was instantly hooked on the way human brains work. That led to my psychology degree and my interest in mental health. I originally thought nurse training would be helpful in getting me a place on a clinical psychology course (very hard to get into at the time without some practice experience of some kind), but once I started I absolutely loved the work. Although, like everyone, I have the odd bad day at work I still, 28 years later, can’t think of a better job than being a nurse.

Q: What was your nursing career up to your current job?
A: I came to New Zealand in 2006 to the DoNM role at Lakes DHB. Prior to that all my practice had been in the UK within mental health services. Including unit manager of first an acute day hospital and then a psychiatric intensive care unit. Then as a service manager of secure services and a community mental health team leader. Immediately before moving to New Zealand I worked as assistant director of nursing (learning and development) where I was responsible for developing and implementing a major culture change programme for the NHS trust I worked for.

Q: Share a moment when you felt particularly proud to be a nurse?
A: Nowadays I feel proud of being a nurse as I walk around the hospital and see the way busy nurses, calmly and compassionately deal with the care of their patients.
Personally when I was working with patients it would be getting a letter or card from someone who appreciated my efforts to help and support them.

Q: So what is your current job all about?
A: My current job involves providing nursing advice to the executive team at Lakes as well as sharing in the team’s decision making. I also manage nursing professional development programmes and the nurse educators at the DHB report to me. The role also includes primary and community nursing so I have regular contact with nurse leaders outside of the hospital. I am involved in promoting nursing development at regional and national level so work closely with DoN colleagues on such issues.

Q: What do you love about your current job?
A: I like to think that I am a strategic thinker so the part I like best is looking at the big picture, planning for change and development and looking at how systems and services are put together to best meet the needs of patients.

Q: What are the bits you love least?
A: The parts I find least rewarding are the detailed, small-scale things like signing requisitions or processing leave forms. Of course they are important too and have an impact on individual staff if not done properly, but if I could find a way to get someone else to do that stuff I would.

Q: Have you ever wanted to give up nursing and why?
A: Occasionally if am having a bad day…but when I stop and reflect, there is still no better job. The difference nurses make to the lives of people all over the world every day of the year is just incredible. What a great thing to be part of that.

Q: Would you recommend your child/nephew/neighbour/grandchild to go into nursing?
A: Yes, but I would make it clear to them that nursing is a hard job that needs people committed to doing the job well and if they are willing to give it the effort it requires it will be a very rewarding career.

Q: What do you do to try and keep fit, healthy, happy and balanced?
A: Back in the UK my hobbies were karate and historical re-enactment (dressing up as a Viking and beating each other with blunt swords/axes). Since moving to New Zealand – with less opportunity to put on my chain mail shirt – I have switched to kayaking and occasional dog walking. I also read a lot and have to admit that I do enjoy playing games such as Baldur’s Gate or Dragon Age on the computer at home.

Q: What is your favourite way to spend a Sunday?
A: Generally spend the morning in church, my children are both involved in the youth band and I trained as a sound tech, so whether it is helping them or one of the other bands I am often operating the sound desk. After the service we generally head off to on of Rotorua’s many cafes for lunch. Then usually home and, if it is a nice day, we might get the kayaks out or, if we can’t avoid it any longer, get out and do some gardening.

Q: While waiting in the supermarket checkout queue which magazine are you most likely to pick up to browse?
A: Often a computer magazine or New Scientist.

Q: What is number one on your ‘bucket list’ of things to do?
A: Always wanted to go diving on the Great Barrier Reef. Living in New Zealand makes that much more possible than it was back in the UK.

Q: If I wasn’t a nurse I’d be a…?
A:  Probably would like to go back to my first plan and be a marine biologist.

Q:  What is your favourite meal?
A:  Beef lasagna. I lived in Italy for five years as a child so have always had a liking for Italian food.