Q&A with Geoff Annals

1 July 2012

NZNO chief executive Geoff Annals first career choice was farming. Find out how he got from a high country farm to the head of the country's largest nursing organisation and union.

Job Title: Chief Executive, New Zealand Nurses Organisation

Q Where and when did you train?

A Waikato Polytechnic, 1980–1982

Q Other qualifications/professional roles?

A Bachelor of Social Science, University of Waikato.

Q When and why did you decide to become a nurse?

A I grew up on a Waikato dairy farm, and the prospect of being a nurse never entered my head. I liked rural life and intended to be a farmer. After leaving school, I ignored teachers’ expectations that I would go to university and instead headed off to work on a high country sheep station in the South Island. After a few years of working for farmers, I discovered I could never earn enough money to get a farm of my own, and casting about in frustration for some other future, I saw an ad for nursing. Nursing struck me as a great trade that, like farming, engaged with the very essence of living and offered job prospects in rural communities. I signed up and began to discover nursing really was that and a whole lot more besides.

Q What was your nursing career up to your current job?

A As a student, I found whatever area of nursing we were studying at the time was what I wanted to do on graduation. I graduated wanting to be a public health nurse in the country, but the public health department insisted I work in a hospital for a year first. Despite wanting to go rural, I stayed there for 20 years. I loved every area of hospital practice and found Waikato Hospital presented great opportunities to learn about the breadth of health challenges people can face and the richness and nuances of the nursing response. I was principal nurse at Waikato in 1992 when that position was disestablished as part of wider moves to bring a business focus to health management. The choice for many nurses in senior positions then was early retirement or a new career. I wound up as general manager at Waikato Hospital, a role I mostly enjoyed and where, amongst other things, I learned how difficult it is to run a hospital when nurses are on strike.

Q Share a moment when you felt particularly proud to be a nurse?

A I remember the first time a patient accepted, without embarrassment or distress, my help with something that in normal circumstances they would do for themselves. I felt valued and glad that she almost didn’t notice.

Q So what is your current job all about?

A My job is to see that the collective resources of the 46,000 members of NZNO are used as effectively as possible to support them in the removal of the many constraints and barriers that stop nurses from practising fully and well, so that nurses are free to get on with the practice of care and end each day knowing they have practised well and feel proud of their care.

Q What do you love about your current job?

A Having worked for 20 years in roles where I was increasingly constrained in what I could do or say ­– and the hardest thing was not knowing what to do but gaining approval to do it – it is a daily joy to work in a job where my responsibility and sole accountability is to NZNO members.

Q What are the bits you love least?

A Even NZNO has bureaucracy.

Q Would you recommend your child/nephew/neighbour/grandchild to go into nursing?

A I have recommended nursing to each of my four children, and I often recommend nursing to young people, but only when I think they have what it takes.

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

A I don’t worry too much about trying to keep fit and healthy but expect that I will be.

Q What are three of your favourite movies of all time?

A When I was about nine, I went to The Sound of Music six times. It is embedded somewhere in my top three, at least!

Q If I wasn’t a nurse I’d be a…?

A I couldn’t be a farmer, so I became a nurse. Does that mean if I wasn’t a nurse, I’d be a farmer?

Q What is your favourite meal?

A Whatever I’m having at the time. My youngest laughs at me every time I say, “This is the best (lasagna or whatever) I’ve ever had!”