Q&A with Jenny Carryer

1 September 2012

Find out why this Nursing Professor and executive director of the College of Nurses Aotearoa (NZ) loves to zumba and whether she'd recommend nursing to the next generation.

Q Where and when did you train?

A At Palmerston North Hospital in those quaint times of white uniforms, separate dress uniforms, red capes, strange and pointless caps, and standing up for student nurses who had been there six months longer! Registered in 1972.

Q Other qualifications/professional roles?

A Directly after registering, I did a postgraduate cardiovascular course at Greenlane Hospital, then one in oncology and a two-year diploma in counselling. Started a BA in the mid-eighties, planning to do just a BA, but I became completely engrossed, finishing a PhD in 1994.

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

A To be honest, I think I did it without even thinking. In 1969, career options for women were extremely limited … my mother was a nurse, and I blindly followed. No regrets, however.

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

A I spent many years in clinical practice, especially years in ICU and five years as charge nurse of an oncology ward. I then enjoyed clinical teaching for some years before becoming an academic. I took up the role of Professor of Nursing in a joint Chair between Massey University and MidCentral District Health Board in 1999 and then full Professor at Massey only since 2009. The joint chair and the role of executive director of the College of Nurses means that, as an academic, I have continued to have a very close engagement with a wide range of nursing and health sector activities.

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

A There are many, but last year, I sat through the night with a friend as a surgical team at Capital & Coast DHB struggled to save her husband’s life following an unexpected, catastrophic, late post-surgical bleed. Next day, an ICU nurse spoke to my friend in a way that so deeply recognised her fear and her exhaustion, and yet enabled her to feel it was safe for her to take a break and rest.

On a lighter note, I have never forgotten learning years ago that an elderly man had only been able to remain in his own remote home because a district nurse had dug a new long drop for him every so often. This is nursing, really, spanning such a complex array of environments and being tuned to people’s needs – whoever they are and wherever they are.

Q So what is your current job all about?

A Being a nurse academic carries a responsibility to be a critic and conscience in society, and I take that role seriously. We are the only nurses with the real freedom to comment honestly. I do research, and I teach and write.

Q What do you love about your current job?

A I gain the most joy from seeing nurses achieve beyond their wildest dreams.

Q What are the bits you love least?

A Having to sit down so much, especially as growing evidence shows how bad for us it is to sit for long periods. And sometimes, I do become annoyed with the assumption, still made by some nurses, that academics are out of touch. To be honest, through constant exposure to registered nurse students from a wide range of settings, we know a great deal about what happens and how it is ‘out there’.

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

A This is a really hard question, and despite my passion for nursing, I would struggle to make a whole-hearted recommendation. In 2012, nursing is still not taken seriously, still not accorded full respect, still treated as an adjunct to medicine, and often patronised by people who should know better. This is not conducive to nurse’s personal wellbeing, and it is an additional burden to carry when working so very hard.

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

A Because my job is so sedentary, I am pretty fanatical about exercise. I adore Zumba and have overcome having no coordination (I think) to become confident enough to stand in the front row, although never in front of the mirror! I do resistance training at a gym, a number of long distance walks/tramps, and garden regularly. My Kindle goes everywhere with me, and I belong to two book groups. Friends are really important.

Q What have you been reading lately?

A I read to relax and mostly devour well-written novels, but I did just read The End of Illness by David B. Agus. Highly recommended.

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

A I would like to say jumping off the Sky Tower, but my natural terror of heights may always get in the way. I adore travel and value any opportunity to do that. I think an African safari is high on the list, as is seeing more of Japan.

Q If I wasn’t a nurse I’d be a...

A ...lawyer in criminal cases.