Q&A with Dr Frances Hughes

February 2016 Vol 16 (1)

Find out more about kiwi nurse Dr Frances Hughes who is the southern hemisphere's first CEO of the International Council of Nurses. She took her up her Geneva-based post in February and on her 'bucket list' is learning another language...

Dr Frances Hughes iconNAME: Dr Frances Hughes 

JOB TITLE: Chief Executive of the International Council of Nurses (ICN), Geneva

Where and when did you train?

I completed two hospital-based training programmes. The first was training as an RGON at Hutt Hospital (won the Florence Nightingale Award on graduating in 1979, a lovely medal I still wear as a necklace) and the second was a two-year psychiatric nursing programme at Porirua Hospital (1981–1983).

Other qualifications/professional roles?

BA, MA and Doctor of Nursing. I was the first nurse to be awarded a Harkness Fellowship in health policy, The University of Auckland’s first professor of nursing, a JP, chair of Careerforce ITO, Colonel Commandant of the Royal New Zealand Nursing Corps, first New Zealand president and councillor for former Australian & New Zealand College of Mental Health Nursing, and the founder and chair of Kapiti Community Enterprise Trust (a charity for those with complex mental illness and developmental disabilities). I was a Fulbright senior scholar in 2013 and I am a credentialed MH nurse.

Why did you decide to become a nurse?

I remember being in the sixth form and my best friend Marie was going nursing. I needed somewhere to live post-school, as my family moved away, so I decided to follow suit. In those days, going to university straight from school was not that common and I really wanted to be with my friends. If anything, I wanted to go into the police force but I was too young.

What was your nursing career up to your current job?

I began teaching CPR for the National Heart Foundation. Since completing my psychiatric nurse training, I have always been active in mental health nursing, initially as a clinician and then in other roles, including as an educator at Whitireia Community Polytechnic, where I developed the forensic mental health nursing programme while nursing part-time. I’ve also been a regional nurse educator, worked for Family Planning and held the director of mental health nursing role at Porirua Hospital. I became a senior advisor and then chief advisor nursing for the Ministry of Health (1996–2004); then became professor of nursing at The University of Auckland, facilitator of the Pacific Island Mental Health Network for WHO, and a senior consultant then acting deputy director of mental health for the Ministry of Health. From 2012 (until taking up the ICN post in February), I was Queensland’s chief nursing and midwifery officer.

I was also the owner, with my husband Kevin, of an NGO residential mental health and disability provider in Kapiti for 12 years (where I worked part-time as an RN). I worked with an amazing group of clients, mainly males with complex mental and developmental disabilities.

So what is your new job all about?

As chief executive of the International Council of Nurses (ICN), I work for the board and for the members of ICN – the 130 countries covered by national nursing associations (NNAs). My job is to maintain the organisation, deliver on the strategic directions, and make sure we have strong, robust systems and processes to take ICN into the future. It is also to expand our members and partners, and to understand the expectations and issues of our members. I will be representing nursing to ensure we have a voice where it matters at global decision-making tables.

What do you love most about being a nurse leader?

I love the complexity of problem solving and developing strategies and approaches. I love being surrounded by people who are shaping our environment in a positive manner. I also love being humbled by stories of families and consumers, who remind me of what we are all here for.

What do you love least about being a leader in 2016?

The demand is great; we expect more and more of our nurse leaders, and at times it is completely unrealistic. We want them to be the best clinician, the best researcher, the best academic and the best strategist.

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

I would wish for more courage, confidence and ability to influence. I would wish for all nurses to have mentorship and professional support in their careers.

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

Courage, confidence, integrity and a sense of justice. Then I think I would add positivity and being a strategist.

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

I drink and love green tea, I meditate, I go to the gym as much as I can, and I love and appreciate my family and friends and tell them so frequently. Keeping in contact and taking wise counsel from my friends and treasured colleagues is important when you are often leading from the front in regards to nursing work.

As a mental health nurse, I have always had, and continue to have, professional supervision.

While you are waiting in the supermarket check-out queue, which magazine are you most likely to pick up and browse, and why?

Real estate guides – I love looking at property and houses.

What is number one on your ‘bucket list’ of things to do?

Learn another language.

What is your favourite meal?

Anything with potatoes and spinach. 


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