Q&A with Michael McIlhone

August 2015 Vol 15 (4)

Michael McIlhone is the director of nursing for one of the country's largest PHO's. Find out more about this nurse leader who was a teenage 'zambuck' at a Lions vs All Black test and who believes a sense of humour and a strong sense of social values are pretty essential to be a nurse.

Michael McIlhoneQ&A profile

NAME: Michael McIlhone

JOB TITLE: Director of Nursing, Pegasus Health, Christchurch

Where and when did you train?

At the Christchurch Hospital School of Nursing and was registered in December 1981.

What other qualifications do you hold?

Postgrad Diploma in Health Sciences, Nursing Council Competence Review Group member for past five years, recently appointed to Health Practitioner Disciplinary Tribunal, Canterbury DHB clinical board member and member of the Canterbury Clinical Network’s Alliance Leadership team.

When and/or why did you decide to become a nurse?

I was involved with the St John Ambulance Brigade from the age of six until my mid-teens. As a 17-year-old I was at Lancaster Park as a “zambuck” for the Lions playing the All Blacks. My mother was an enrolled nurse so was always supportive, but a key influence was essentially getting the OK from my secondary school careers advisor back in 1975 that nursing was a “good option” for a man. Actually all my secondary school teachers were very supportive… maybe so I’d continue to be the school’s unofficial first aid expert.

What was your nursing career up to your current job?

I started in the emergency department, became a public health nurse and then in 1988 moved into neonatal intensive care. This lead to a 20-year career in neonates, which took me to Saudi Arabia (where I married my wife Elaine), Oxford (England), Auckland, back to Saudi Arabia, London, and then back to Christchurch, with a variety of positions. In 2008 I became the nursing director for Women and Children’s Health in Christchurch, including an 18-month secondment to Planning and Funding. I was appointed as director of nursing (DoN) for Pegasus Health in November 2014.

So what is your current job all about?

The DoN is responsible for professional and clinical nursing leadership, providing a strategic vision and direction for nursing in primary healthcare teams, particularly in general practice. Also leadership and oversight of Pegasus Health’s nursing staff, who provide a number of services to support general practice, including education, professional development programmes, and postgraduate support and advice.

Canterbury has a truly integrated health service that is developing all the time so collaboration and consultation at a senior nursing level across the region is vital and a priority. As one of the largest primary health organisations (PHO), it is important that this collaboration extends around New Zealand via various forums. I am a member of the Pegasus Health Senior Leadership team so can influence not only nursing practice but also business practice within the organisation.

Another aspect of the role is to ensure nursing is not working in isolation and is part of the multi-disciplinary team in primary health care.

What do you love most about being a director of nursing?

This is the culmination of 36 years’ nursing experience! The people I have met and worked with over the years, the people who have coached and mentored me, and the people who have educated me still remain firmly in my mind and memory, so my love of this position is due to that team that got me here. I work with a brilliant and visionary team who always keep the health consumer as their priority and I get to be a leader – life is good!

What do you love least about being a DoN in 2015?

The life of a DoN is full of challenges, as it should be, so nothing really springs to mind. Take the good with the bad – if 75 per cent is good then the other 25 per cent is just to be worked on.

If there was a fairy godmother of nursing, what three wishes would you ask to be granted for the New Zealand nursing workforce?

Unilateral courage of conviction for all nurses to stand up and articulate their qualities and not get stuck on the minutia.

Equality and equity should be everyone’s focus, so equity and equality when it comes to the allocation of Health Work Force New Zealand funding would be a great start!

Look after our new grads, make them welcome, learn from them but more importantly mentor and coach them, then stand back and watch our health service truly blossom.

What do you think are the most important personal characteristics required to be a nurse?

A sense of humour, don’t take yourself too seriously and strong sense of social values

The ability to respect and appreciate the positives in each of us but at the same time recognise that we’ve all got a few rough edges that we may not be able to smooth out, so learn to live with them.

What do you do to try and keep fit, healthy, happy and balanced?

This changes with age but currently squash (I have an ongoing, 37-year grudge match with my brother). Listening to music, music and more music. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 21 and I love to get out for a tramp and enjoy the outdoors. I should swim and cycle more – that’s the plan for the next few months.

Running is good for clearing the mind and I am a Crusader/Canterbury/All Black fan for life! A group of us ‘male’ nurses that trained together meet once in a while for a real ale or two: puts our careers and lives in perspective and is good for the soul!

What piece of advice would you give new nursing graduates?

Long hours at work are sometimes necessary, but don’t make a habit of it, look for the balance and don’t make either your life or your job more important than the other. Laugh lots!

What keeps you sane, busy or on task outside of work?

Our native garden and the native birds it attracts. Had our first tui last summer; bellbirds and fantails are regular visitors. My wife’s vegetarian cooking – to die for! Exercise, music and good coffee is a must.

Which book is gathering dust on your bedside table?

There isn’t one. If I can’t get into a book, I stop reading it and find another.

What are you reading at present?

I’m currently reading Ralph Peer and the making of popular roots music, by
Barry Mazor.

 What are three of your favourite movies of all time?

The Fifth Element (Luc Besson), High Fidelity, and Romeo and Juliet
(the Baz Luhrmann version).

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