Career Path: clinical nurse coordinator

August 2016 Vol. 16 (4)

LEAHA NORTH knew when she was a girl playing hospital with her dolls that she wanted to work with children. After returning from a lengthy OE mostly spent paediatric nursing, she is also keen to work on reducing Māori health inequalities.

NAME: Leaha North (Ngāti Raukawa descent)

JOB TITLE: Clinical nurse coordinator, Capital and Coast District Health Board

Nursing and other qualifications:

  • Diploma of Nursing 1994 (Whitireia Community Polytechnic)
  • Bachelor of Nursing 1996 (Whitireia Community Polytechnic)
  • Certificate in Te Ara Reo Māori Level 2, 2012 (Te Wānanga o Aotearoa)
  • Te Tohu Whakawaiora, Certificate in Healthcare Capability 2015 (a regional DHB initiative)
  • Ngā Manukura o Āpōpō Clinical Leaders Programme (for Māori nurses and midwives held at Tapu Te Ranga Marae, Wellington).

Postgraduate study journey

I had returned home to New Zealand in 2010 after 13 years living and working in London and Europe and struggled through my first paper towards my Master of Nursing. I chose to put this on hold and reconnect with my whānau, culture and  community, including several courses. I am now ready to complete my master’s but am going to start a Master of Professional Practice in 2017 through Whitireia Community Polytechnic.

Briefly describe your initial five years as an RN.

From the start of my career, working with children and whānau was my passion.

I worked in an aged care facility as a student nurse and as an RN for three months before securing a job based in Porirua as a public health nurse in schools. After 15 months I moved to work at Starship Children’s Hospital. This was a requirement to become a registered sick children’s nurse (RSCN) in London and I was ready to travel the world. I arrived in London in 1997 and did agency nursing while on a two-year working holiday visa.

I returned home to New Zealand in 2000 but I longed to return to London and was sponsored by Chelsea and Westminster Hospital to return to work in general paediatrics. Two years later I obtained my first senior nurse role as paediatric pre-anaesthetic nurse specialist.

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

My career plan was to work with children and whānau, travel the world and have a good time. The first five years reinforced my passion, energy and motivation to work with children. The challenge I faced was there were so many specialities and hospitals for children in London, I wanted to do everything!

I worked in the public and private sector in all paediatric specialities as an agency nurse. Any permanent jobs were always in generalist areas such as medical, surgical and emergency departments as I did not want to limit my job options when I came home.

My strengths as a nurse were a strong work ethic and connecting easily with the people I worked with, possibly due to the culturally diverse and transient life we often shared.

What led you into your current field or speciality?

I knew from a young age I wanted to work with children; as a child I would line all my dolls up in the hallway and play hospitals for hours. I left school to do a nanny course at Whitireia but the course facilitator sat me down one day and told me I’d be a great nurse, so with her support I secured a place in the 1991 intake. The nursing team that mentored me as a newly graduated public health nurse and the community of Porirua I served helped to give me a solid foundation and the motivation to provide evidence-based, high-standard nursing care right from the start.

I continue to strive to reduce inequalities in accessing healthcare services for Māori and advocating for increased Māori workforce development, believing it is not about Māori fitting in with current policies and processes but what we can do to change these policies and processes to meet the needs of Māori. Having completed the Māori nurse leadership programme, I am now part of a wider leadership network and believe that together we can make a difference to addressing inequalities and disparities.

What qualifications, skills or stepping stone jobs do you think were particularly helpful and/or necessary in reaching your current goals?

I believe that ongoing professional development is essential and you should embrace every course, conference and networking opportunity that comes your way. Keep up to date with the professional development recognition programme (PDRP) within your organisation. Move jobs, move cities, move countries – do not stay in the same role for long periods (you can always go back).

Have a good work and home life balance. When my daughter was six months old I got a job in the children’s ward in Gibraltar and we moved from London to Spain, getting submerged into a European culture where the traditional family values resonated with home. It became clear after two years that we needed to come home where I knew as a nurse I had so much to offer and I wanted to be close to my whānau and to be back in the New Zealand health system.

On my return I was successful in getting a job as an RN in the Ambulatory Team at Wellington Hospital and then as a nurse educator just over a year later. I am on the senior level of the PDRP.

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

  • Good clear communication skills.
  • Get to know all kinds of people – whether they are directly related to your role or not.
  • Demonstrate advanced clinical competence and coordination of complex patient care.
  • Be confident, always be thinking forward, but stay focused.
  • Be kind to yourself and your colleagues.
  • Be yourself.

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

  • Continue to develop professionally, whether it is undergraduate or postgraduate study.
  • Look for quality initiatives within your workplace and act on improving patient care.
  • Gather evidence and information, look at showcasing your work, presenting at conferences or making a poster/resource for your clinical area.
  • Believe in yourself and seek opportunities out of your specialist area.
  • Get involved in local and national working groups.
  • Seek out nurturing people, work together as a team.
  • Share with your colleagues and whānau about why you went into nursing.
  • And reflect on your career – it reignites the passion when you have had a hard day.

Describe your current role and responsibilities.

The role I am currently in is coordinating people, systems and resources for elective surgical services to ensure appropriate and safe care is delivered efficiently and effectively. The specialities covered are general surgery, standby patients, urology and child health. I work Monday to Friday full-time and my hours are flexible to accommodate the service needs, plus I am close to my daughter’s school and our home, which are both just up the road.

Responsibilities include working in partnership with clinical staff and management to ensure patients are well prepared for elective surgery interventions in a safe, timely and efficient manner.

The role requires a sound knowledge of standards, processes and policies and advanced clinical practice and expertise, including outsourcing patients to external hospitals and working within a multidisciplinary team.

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