Career paths: Nicky Graham

1 August 2014

Surgical nursing director NICKY GRAHAM’s initial career path diverted from paediatric to adult surgery and she hasn’t looked back.

NAME: Nicky Graham

JOB TITLE: Surgical Nursing Director, Christchurch Hospital


  • BN 1998 Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology Postgraduate Cert in Health Sciences (Nursing Leadership & Management) 2006
  • Xcelr8 Management Development Programme 2007
  • NZIM Four Quadrant Leadership 2010

Briefly describe your initial five years as an RN?

On graduating I worked in paediatrics, both at Brackenridge and in a paediatric surgical ward. I moved to Blenheim and rotated between ATR (assessment, treatment, and rehabilitation), paediatric, gynaecology, and general surgery wards. I returned to Christchurch to a general surgical and vascular ward.

Did you have a career plan on becoming an RN? How did those first years influence your subsequent career?

My initial plan was to work in a surgical paediatric area. However, on returning to Christchurch, there were no vacant positions, and I followed an adult surgical path, which I really enjoyed. The first five years cemented my passion for nursing and gave me good exposure to different facets of nursing and the health system. 

What led you into your current field or specialty?

After developing as a senior RN, I became more involved in informal and formal leadership roles. I became second in charge of the Gastroenterology Investigative Unit at Christchurch Hospital for four years before moving to Australia and a position as the clinical charge nurse of a day surgery and endoscopy unit. I returned to Christchurch and became the nurse manager of the perioperative service on an 18-month secondment. Following a restructure, I continued as the charge nurse manager in this area before being seconded for 12 months to the role of service manager for the General Surgery department. I then had the exciting opportunity to apply for and gain the role of surgical nursing director.

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

I believe my surgical and perioperative background, nursing leadership, and management papers and previous leadership roles were extremely beneficial in providing the knowledge and skills required for this role. I have been actively engaged in strategic planning, change management, and numerous quality improvement, innovation, and organisational change initiatives during my career, which has assisted with the skill set required for the role.

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

A passion for nursing and a patient-focused and continuous improvement ethos are essential. I believe it is important to have excellent communication skills and the ability to develop collaborative partnerships with nursing, medical, community, allied health and management.

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

It is important to get involved in additional portfolios within the ward/unit setting to grow your knowledge and skills. Make it known to your nursing leader you are interested in career advancement and senior roles within the organisation. It would be advisable to have a career plan in place but with some flexibility within this, as different opportunities may arise.

Describe your current role and responsibilities?

My current role is to lead the surgical nursing cluster to ensure CDHB vision and strategy is implemented and that daily operations are maximised whilst delivering quality nursing care. I work in a collaborative manner, embracing nursing innovation and identifying opportunities to improve the journey for the patient and health outcomes.