Q&A with Stephen Neville

June 2015 Vol 15 (3)

Find out about Stephen Neville's journey from psychopaedic nurse to head of one of the country's largest nursing schools. And what alternative career he briefly considered before committing to nursing...

Q & A Profile 

NAME: Stephen Neville

JOB TITLE: Associate Professor and Head of Department (Nursing) at AUT University, Auckland

Stephen Neville ICON

Where and when did you train?

I initially trained at Templeton Hospital as a psychopaedic nurse in the late 1970s, then completed my general and obstetric training at The Princess Margaret Hospital in Christchurch.


What other qualifications do you hold?

BA, MA (First Class Honours) and PhD – all from Massey University. I’m a Fellow of the College of Nurses Aotearoa (NZ), president of the New Zealand Association of Gerontology, a visiting Fellow at the Faculty of Health, the University of Technology Sydney and an honorary senior Fellow at the University of Queensland’s School of Nursing and Midwifery.


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

I had no burning desire to be a nurse and no family members were nurses. Originally I wanted to be a primary school teacher but I saw a newspaper ad recruiting for psychopaedic nurses, thought it looked interesting and applied. To my surprise, I was accepted and without any idea about what nursing entailed, let alone what being a psychopaedic nurse was, I started training. By the time I graduated I knew that nursing was the career for me and so soon after I did my general and obstetric training.


What was your nursing career up to your current job?

My clinical experience as a registered nurse includes acute surgical, operating room, mental health, intellectual disability and gerontology. In 1987 I started working in nursing education first at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology then Otago Polytechnic. At this time I worked between clinical practice and education and continued to do this until 2002 when I started work at Massey University as the Director for Postgraduate Nursing Programmes and the Associate Head of School. I have very recently taken up my current role.


What is one thing you like about your job and what comprises your role?

One of the things I really like about working at AUT is the interdisciplinary focus. Students and staff have the opportunity to work and study alongside people from midwifery, paramedicine, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, podiatry and oral health as students are prepared for the multidisciplinary focus of contemporary healthcare. My role as head of department means I have overall responsibility for the undergraduate and postgraduate nursing programmes at AUT. I set the strategic direction for nursing and overseeing the day-to-day running of the department.


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

My three wishes would be:

  • Firstly, to remove the structural and attitudinal barriers to nurse practitioners being able to function in their roles.
  • Secondly, I’d wish for funding equity so there is a level playing field for post-registration education opportunities for all nurses.
  • And thirdly, that nurse prescribing will be fully implemented and supported in 
  • New Zealand.


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

Intelligence, being a critical thinker, acceptance of and compassion towards all people, good communication skills and being able to adapt to a rapidly and ever changing healthcare environment.


As a leader in nurse education, what do you believe are the strengths of nurse training in the 21st century? And in what areas do you think there is room for improvement?

The 21st century is a really exciting time to be a nurse. Nurses have a variety of career opportunities available to them and there is a greater focus on research within nursing education. We have a much larger number of doctorally prepared and highly educated academics and clinicians who support the delivery of nursing curricula. However, nursing education needs to work closely with practice to ensure new graduate nurses are prepared, encouraged and supported to work in primary healthcare, mental health and age related residential care. Recent New Zealand research has shown that new graduates are still encouraged to work in a hospital setting first.


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

Monday to Friday I start my day with the gym. I have always been an early riser so I’m up at 5.30am and at the gym by 6am. I do weights, attend group fitness classes and run. On the weekends I walk or go for a bike ride.


What or who helps keep you sane, busy or on task outside work?

I live with my partner Paul and my mother-in-law Maureen. Both of these people, along with my own parents and friends, are really important in helping me maintain some degree of work/life balance. I am also a very keen gardener and we open our garden to the public from time to time, most recently to raise funds for hospice. We live in central Auckland so make the most of what inner city living offers. Mind you, I don’t drink so am always the designated driver!


What is your favourite way to spend a Sunday?

Sunday starts by taking the dog for a walk, getting the newspaper and then sitting down to breakfast and coffee. I usually do a bit of gardening and we might catch up with friends for lunch somewhere like Blue Breeze Inn on Ponsonby Road or the Elbow Room.


If I wasn’t a nurse I’d be a…?

Nurse!! I have always nursed, although when I was younger I worked part-time as a fitness instructor and briefly considered giving up nursing. However, that was only fleeting. I can honestly say that if I had my life over again I would still choose nursing. It has been the best career for me and one that I thoroughly enjoy.


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