Career path: mental health nurse case study

1 August 2014

Role modeling by nurse leaders and pushes by a mentor helped Mental health nurse educator KATHY MOORE’s career “fall” into place.

NAME: Kathy Moore

JOB TITLE: Nurse Educator Mental Health, Ko Awatea, Counties Manukau District Health Board


  • Psychiatric Nurse 1974 (Sunnyside Psychiatric Hospital*)
  • General and Obstetric Nurse 1979 (Middlemore Hospital)
  • Postgraduate Diploma in Mental Health Nursing 1998
  • Postgraduate papers in clinical education and supervision

*I was recruited at 17 by Margaret Bazley, the then Sunnyside principal nurse at Sunnyside Hospital, whose later roles have included New Zealand Chief Nurse and Social Welfare Director-General.


Briefly describe your initial years as an RN?

I gained a variety of experience in acute inpatient, forensics, older persons, and intellectual disability before I moved to the former Kingseat Hospital to work with those with an intellectual disability. After training as a general and obstetric nurse, I recognised that this was essential to provide holistic nursing practice.

An opportunity came up to be part of the new mental health community services. This was an exciting initiative working with clients across the whole continuum. Doctor cover was minimal, so nurses completed initial assessments, ran groups, day patient programmes, and other psychological interventions with colleagues such as psychologists. This was also the beginning of seeing clients in crisis and completing assessments in general wards and ED.

Commitment to a mortgage and family sent me back to inpatient services to take up a charge nurse position.


Did you have a career plan (vague or definite) on becoming an RN? How did those early years influence your subsequent career?

I just wanted to be a really good nurse. I had observed things in my first five years that that did not provide dignified care and I wanted to influence change, and develop patient-centred services.

I did not have a specific plan. I just fell into things. I became a charge nurse and worked for the next four years in inpatient services. The charge nurse role in the 80s was a very autonomous role that allowed me to truly influence nurses’ clinical practice, models of care, and client pathways.


What led you into your current field or specialty?

While working as a CN, I was encouraged by a nurse colleague (Tim Wallace, who later became my mentor) to apply for the in-service educator role – an amazing opportunity and challenge that involved me in new initiatives like development of an advocacy service and establishing homes in the community.


What qualifications, skills, or stepping stone jobs were particularly helpful and/or necessary in reaching your current role?

Work experience:

  • a wide range of clinical areas developing a generic skill set in both inpatient and community settings
  • being a charge nurse
  • working as an inservice educator across settings and disciplines
  • working as ECT clinical nurse specialist.


  • Margaret Bazley – she was a major change agent and told us as new student nurses that we were to be change agents.
  • Learning that:
  • I felt uncomfortable during the management of change process that I had little influence over. This influences me today to recognise the stress of change, even if the change is exciting, and to ensure the process is very transparent
  • clinical work and education was where my passion was.


What personal characteristics are particularly important for nurses working in your role?


  • To be tenacious in ensuring principles and values are upheld.
  • Deciding the type of nurse you want to be i.e. drawing a line in the sand about your principles and practice for the rest of your career.
  • Being prepared to change and learn as practice changes.
  • To actually want to be a nurse and make a difference in people’s lives.
  • To keep nursing strong by nurturing and developing new nurses to do our job.


What career advice would you give to nurses seeking a similar role to yours?

Seek to develop a wide range of clinical skills through experiences and actively take opportunities for new learning. Seek out mentors who are prepared to challenge you to look at your practice. Make a plan for your professional development that extends you and moves you out of your comfort zone. Never underrate the importance of relationships and communication.


Describe your current role and responsibilities?

I am nurse educator mental health, which is really a misnomer as my work is far wider than this. I have clear responsibility for support and leadership to nursing but also have a multidisciplinary function, especially around education. The whole team works as part of a professional development unit for the DHB. I contribute to the Safe Practice and Effective Communication education (SPEC) provided for mental health services and security at the DHB and wider afield, including recently delivering SPEC training in Samoa. My role has enabled me to work with, grow and develop nurses across our service and this has probably been one of the most rewarding aspects of my nursing career.