Q & A: Vicky Noble

October 2016 Vol. 16 (5)

Vicky Noble’s latest role is advising on health delivery to prisoners across the country. But along the way the nursing leader has nursed in New York to Beijing and worked as a glass artist.

QANAME: Vicky Noble

JOB TITLE: Principal Health Advisor, Department of Corrections

Where and when did you train? 

I trained at Greenlane Hospital in Auckland in one of the last hospital-based training programmes in the 1970s. By the way, I really loved the fact that this involved me learning on the job in a practical sort of way. Over the years I have come to recognise the value of having such a solid foundation to my work.

Other qualifications/professional roles?

I took time out in the 1980s to get a BA (Hons) degree in three-dimensional design specialising in glass. Later I did my New York State nursing exams when I thought we would be living in New York for an extended period (as it turned out we only stayed a short time). I did my Master of Nursing through Victoria University of Wellington, completing it in 2004. As far as professional roles are concerned, I have done a lot of different things. These have included helping to set up an international health centre in Beijing, running a regional health training and quality programme in Jakarta, and being a clinical nurse consultant at Hutt Valley DHB. Most recently I was the Director of Nursing Primary Health Care and Integrated Care at Capital & Coast DHB.

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

I decided to become a nurse when I was 14 years old. I went with my mum to see a friend of hers who was in need and we found her dead, alone in her flat. At that point I decided I wanted to contribute in a practical way to give people care, warmth and support so that if they suffered from ill health they would not be neglected and left on their own.


So what is your current job all about?

I am the Principal Health Advisor in the national office of the Department of Corrections in Wellington. On a day-to-day basis I advise on policy and best practice in relation to healthcare delivery to prisoners at 16 sites. Overall the main purpose of my job is to improve and strengthen clinical practice in the prison system.

I have been in the job eight months so far and have visited most of the sites. I am still learning about my job but I am enormously struck by the extraordinary talent and commitment of so many of the people I work alongside. It is a demanding environment to work in and there is still so much to be done.


As a leader in primary health care what do you believe are the strengths of nursing practice in the 21st century, and where is there room for improvement?

Over the years, nursing has held onto the central importance of practical experience combined with knowledge and skills. The 21st century is giving us the opportunity to work in a wide range of extended and expanded roles. In response we need to focus on increasing the breadth and depth of our knowledge.

There is a bigger issue here too. Nursing has always managed to combine warmth and integrity with specialist knowledge and skills.

As budgets grow tight – and the world of health care becomes increasingly complex and demanding – it is hard for nurses to sustain their long-established ways of working. I’m not sure I know what the answer to this is, but I think it is something that I am increasingly aware of and concerned about.


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

Patience, sensitivity, warmth and resilience – and a sense of humour!


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

More money, more numbers and more authority.


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

I walk to and from work, do yoga and try to sleep well. Also a glass or two of good red wine and tasty food with friends and family is something I always look forward to.


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

Emma Sky’s The Unravelling – about a woman’s extraordinary achievements in the horror of Iraq. She started as a British council worker and then ended up as the senior advisor to one of the most powerful US military generals because her combination of skills in Arabic and hard common sense was a rare, if not unique, asset.


What have you been reading instead?

I have just finished David Galler’s Things That Matter. Beautifully and sensitively written, especially the last chapter, which focuses on his “best patient ever” – his beloved mother, Zaza.


If I wasn’t a nurse I’d be a…?

Jeweller or a glassmaker (I was that once) – or doing something working creatively with my hands.


What is your favourite meal?

Slow-cooked lamb, Moroccan style.

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