Career path: primary & pacific nurse case study

1 August 2014

PHO clinical manager BARBARA VARDEY says until recently she has been an ‘accidental tourist’ along her career path.

NAME: Barbara Vardey

TITLE: Clinical Services Manager, Compass Health, Wellington


  • RN 1980 (Wellington Hospital)
  • PG Cert in Primary Care 2006
  • PG Cert in Pacific Health 2012 (through Aniva Pacific Nurse Leaders programme)


Briefly describe your initial five years as an RN?

My first role as a registered nurse was in the orthopaedic ward of the newly built and innovative Kenepuru Hospital. I left after eight months and went to work in the surgical ward of an Australian teaching hospital, which still had student nurses and the model of nursing was still task orientated. I returned to New Zealand after 12 months as my first child was due. I had children over the next few years and worked casually at Kenepuru Hospital and also at a local GP practice.


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

In both my Cook Islands family and my English/Kiwi family, there have been doctors, nurses, and traditional healers. I always wanted to be a nurse as it was a role I identified with. The positions I held in the first five years affirmed my belief that nursing was where I could influence and support people to get well and keep well. I enjoyed the contact and relationships you can develop with likeminded colleagues and also with patients and families.


What led you into your current field or specialty?

I have been an accidental tourist in my career to date and have only recently recognised this. There was no active planning to get to my current role. I got my first role in primary care with a GP in Cannons Creek through word of mouth. I recognised the potential that nurses had in primary care to influence people’s wellbeing. I did casual nursing until I got a permanent role in Porirua’s Waitangirua Health Centre. This role worked well with my growing family, and it was close to home. I worked with amazing nurses and doctors; their experience, practice and skills helped build my knowledge. While working there,

I got an opportunity to work in youth health in secondary school clinics and develop a new outreach nursing service working with GP clinics. These new roles built my confidence and increased my awareness of the barriers to healthcare and also the disparity experienced by some members of our community.


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

I am curious by nature and have been surrounded by some incredible nurses, doctors, managers, and others in all the roles I have worked in. I have observed them and taken from them skills, knowledge, and the courage I needed to grow my ability to be a more effective nurse and manager. Although I did not go down the academic pathway, I have been supported to do courses I felt would assist me support staff and benefit my performance as a nurse and leader. I have had leadership roles outside of my ‘job’ that also helped me form a leadership style which works for me.


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

I believe you need to have credible leadership skills that are evident in your relationships and performance of the role. You need to be knowledgeable and competent in the area in which you work. Being personable, approachable and direct when required helps teams understand how to work with you. Do not shy away from the difficult discussions but be fair. Your team needs to feel you believe in them and are prepared to support them fully.


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

Work in as many roles as possible and learn as much as you can about nursing and how you can influence change. Spend time understanding the communities you work in. Participate in courses or do postgraduate study that will help you understand the difference in clinical leadership and management models. Attend clinical supervision or peer review to self-reflect and continue developing your own style of leadership. Take opportunities to grow yourself.


Describe your current role and responsibilities?

I work as a clinical services manager in a large PHO; the role has developed over the last few years. Initially my responsibilities were to manage the outreach nursing team, oversight of the school nursing service, and rheumatic fever service and workforce development for nurses as chair of the nurses committee. I have membership on many local, regional, and sub-regional committees, steering groups, and governance groups. My responsibilities changed in the last month, and I now have clinical leadership of the Pacific Navigation Services (a regional service with some of the team employed by another PHO), Rheumatic Fever Services (which are also regional) and workforce development. I am also ‘2IC’ to the clinical director.