Q&A with Jane O'Malley

1 March 2012

Find out more about Ministry of Health chief Jane O'Malley's nursing career spanning New York to Greymouth and her favourite movies of all time.

Q: Where and when did you train?

A: Christchurch Polytechnic 1973 -1975

Q: Other qualifications/professional roles?

A: Masters in Delivery of Nursing Service, New York University and PhD, Victoria University of Wellington. Thesis: Critical social analysis of inpatient mental health nursing following an action research project

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

A: Sometime in my adolescence, I attended a holiday programme introducing young people to nursing at Hokitika’s Westland Hospital. I enjoyed the week working alongside a registered nurse in the orthopaedic ward (it’s true, they did offer orthopaedic services in Hokitika in the 1970s!). I had intended to train at the Base Hospital, Greymouth, but at the last minute, a friend and I enrolled at Christchurch Polytechnic in its first ever comprehensive nursing programme.

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

A: Over 30 years working clinically in surgical, medical, and then mental health nursing. In that time, I’ve been a staff nurse, clinical tutor, charge nurse, nurse researcher, clinical advisor, and academic. I have worked mostly in Christchurch apart from three years studying and working in New York. For the last five years, I was director of nursing and midwifery for the West Coast District Health Board (I finally nursed on the ‘Coast) and have been in my current job for 17 months.

Q: When have you felt particularly proud to be a nurse?

A: I know it may sound trite, but every day I am proud to be a nurse. I was especially proud while visiting the nurses of Christchurch after the February earthquake. I remember one senior nurse saying, ”if ever there was a time to be a nurse, it is now”, referring to the leadership role and the contribution nurses made over this time.

Q: What your most embarrassing moment as a nurse?

A: Not necessarily my most embarrassing because I’m sure there were a few – like the time I slipped and tipped a basin of water over the feet of an entourage of white- coated doctors on a ward round. But one that sticks out was in the 70s when the matron of the Princess Margaret Hospital said pointedly in front of me at afternoon tea (on the day I had marched in a protest rally) “I sincerely hope none of my nurses went in that dreadful march…”

Q: What is your current job all about?

A: Providing advice, in partnership with other clinical leaders, to the Minister of Health and Ministry of Health. I work with the Ministry and the sector to develop policy and implementation strategies to ensure the effectiveness of health services particularly involving, but not limited to, nursing.

Q: What do you love about your current job?

A: The ability to influence change; working on a wide variety of topics; working with great people inside and outside the Ministry; living in Wellington; and being privy to health services across the country.

Q: What are the bits you love least?

A: So much to do and so little time …

Q: Have you ever wanted to give up nursing and why?

A: No, although I was happy to take time-off to share care of our three children with Ian.

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

A: Absolutely, if I thought they had the attitude, aptitude, and intelligence for the work. I would recommend it to my nephews as well!

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

A: Me, balanced? I mean to meditate more often, to do more yoga, read more, and get home early more … I do actually walk to work and lift weights.

Q: Which book is gathering dust on your bedside table waiting for you to get around to reading it?

A: The Penguin History of New Zealand by Michael King.

Q: What have you been reading instead?

A: I’ve just finished The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson (yes, I know everyone else read it years ago). I’m now reading Netherland by Joseph O’Neill.

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

A: Lost in Translation, The Castle, Gran Torino.

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

A: Do the Tongariro Crossing and the Heaphy Track.