Q&A with rural NP leader Sharon Hansen

1 June 2014

Find out what gets rural nurse practitioner Sharon Hansen out of bed at 5.30am. And what three wishes Hansen, who is also deputy chair of the Rural General Practice Network, would like granted for nursing.

Where and when did you train?

I began my nursing career in a psychopaedic institution at Templeton and then went on to do a diploma in general obstetrics at Christchurch Hospital. As soon as I was able, I undertook a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Otago Polytechnic, followed by a clinical master’s degree, which I completed in 2005.

Other qualifications/professional roles

I registered in the scope of nurse practitioner (primary health care rural) in 2007.

Why did you decide to become a nurse?

I had no burning desire to nurse as a youngster and really came to it through applying for psychopaedic nursing. What attracted me to psychopaedic nursing was that no one else was doing it. At the time, I had no idea what it was or the path it would take me.

What was your nursing career up to your current job?

I worked in a variety of roles within secondary services in Christchurch and then Timaru. I went from working night shift in the intensive care unit to a public health nursing position covering Timaru to Aoraki/Mt Cook. It was the beginning of my passion for rural primary health care. I worked there for five years leaving to have some time out to raise my family.

I then worked as a part-time practice nurse while completing first my bachelor’s and then my master’s degree. What got me was the amount of unmet need in primary care. It seemed obvious that nursing was hugely valuable but nurses needed to be able to follow through care and not have to refer on for scripts or ACC.

I was also an on-call health practitioner on weekends in Twizel for three years.

So what is your current job all about?

A It was difficult to move from being a RN to NP within the same practice for a variety of reasons. So when I was invited to join a sole GP, in a practice providing care for approximately 2500 patients in a neighbouring town, I took up the position.

My role has developed in response to the need of the community, which is a small, semi-rural and decile 5 town. About 10 per cent plus of the population are Māori (which is higher than normal in the South Island) and we have a growing population of immigrant workers on the local dairy farms.

I also have a small role in the Timaru sexual health clinic, which is run with another NP and myself.

In my non-clinical role, I am deputy chair of the rural general practice network and am the clinical board member for Arowhenua Whānau services.

What do you love most about your current nursing role?

I really enjoy the relationships that I have developed with the families and individuals I care for, plus the autonomy I have in providing care. I work in a collaborate relationship with my GP colleague, however there is no hierarchy or micromanagement in providing care. I feel I have the best of both worlds; I have the benefit of accessible medical advice if I need it, and an experienced colleague with whom I can debrief.

What do you love least?

A I dislike the length of my lists and the pressure to see more people at the end of a busy session. I don’t always feel that there is an understanding of the complexity of what we do.

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

Revisit the nurse practitioner training and registration process. I don’t think it should be “easier” but it should fit what the sector requires NPs once they are registered.

Adequate funding; primary care is still the poor cousin. Negotiating support and remuneration for time-off to maintain competency is a big issue.

Stronger linkages between the sector (that’s us), the nursing schools and their funding bodies, Health Workforce New Zealand, and the Nursing Council. I think together we can solve the myriad of issues that need to be looked at.

What do you think are the characteristics of a good leader? And are they intrinsic or can they be learnt?

A I never saw myself as a leader, and I’m sure neither did my early nursing tutors. You can learn to be brave, and to understand your own point of view and how it links with that of others. It is an important thing as a leader to see yourself as being part of a bigger whole.

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

A I get up at 5.30am and go to the gym along with a van full of my gym buddies and my poor suffering husband. It is a lot of fun and therapeutic for us all. I also love to hike and bush walk. You must have balance and if you don’t, it’s of your own doing. I am learning to play the viola and have recently joined a community orchestra (now that’s right back at Benner’s ‘novice’ level).

What have you been reading?

My light-hearted reading lately has been The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally and Donna Douglas’s Nightingale novels, which remind me of my nursing roots.

What are three of your favourite movies of all time?

I’m into escapism so it’s Star Trek; I also enjoyed The Others and The Quartet.

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

I would like to study again, so that’s definitely on the list, as is travel with my sisters, and hopefully one day I’ll be a grandmother.

What is your favourite meal?

Oysters and seafood. Not really into ritzy food, it has to be home cooked and nutritious without being covered in fatty sauces.