Celebrating International Nurses Day 2017 … Profiling three amazing nursing leaders

The theme of International Nurses Day 2018 is ‘Nurses … a voice to lead’. So much has been written about nursing leadership … definitions of leadership, leadership theories and styles, leadership attributes and approaches etc … so, rather than revisit much of what we already know, this blog post illustrates my personal philosophy of leadership as illustrated in the life and work of three nursing leaders who I’ve been honoured to know for many years.

Each of these leaders demonstrates leadership that is informed by empathy and a service orientation. Their values are evident in what they do and say and how they live their lives. Each of these women has overcome considerable personal challenges but has not succumbed to self-pity. Rather, their experiences have served to strengthen them and have become a source of inspiration for many. This year the International Council of Nurses encourages nurses to use share their stories. So in this blog I share the stories of Jean Gersbach, Glenys Chapman and Pamela van der Riet, three incredible nursing leaders …

Jean Gersbach

I first met Jean when I was a trainee nurse more than 30 years ago. She was a kind and welcoming educator, but it was her empathic and thoughtful nursing that stood out to me. Fast forward more than 20 years and Jean and I worked together at the University of Newcastle. Jean had many roles including being an educator in the clinical skills laboratory and in simulations, assessing students during their final semester of clinical practice, and providing train-the-trainer workshops for other assessors. Jean had a remarkable gift of providing such informative and empathic feedback to students that they were grateful to her even when they performed poorly. She demonstrated, expected and supported students to attain the highest professional standards of nursing. Jean was always fair but strong, and she spoke out against poor practice and unkind or unethical workplace behaviours. However, what few people knew was that despite Jean’s brave face, she was trying to come to terms with significant trauma while at the same time, being a single parent to her two daughters. I don’t believe it is my right to share Jean’s personal story with you, and I certainly couldn’t do it as eloquently as she has. In this video Jean reflects on the events surrounding her husband’s murder and her journey of forgiveness. For me Jean is an inspirational leader who emulates the values of empathy, ethics and professionalism.  http://forgivetolive.org.au/jeans-story/

Glenys Chapman

I met Glenys during my first year as a Registered Nurse. She was the team leader that I aspired to be. With a calm and gentle disposition Glenys provided, and taught others to provide, exemplary care to women undergoing gynaecological surgery. She also managed complex ward dynamics professionally and skillfully. Glenys’ superb leadership skills were soon recognised and she was charged with the responsibility of establishing and managing a large and very busy Day Surgery Unit at the Sydney Adventist Hospital. Glenys was never short of staff as there was always a waiting list of nurses who wanted to work as part of the positive, inclusive and collegial team that she created.

For nearly 20 years Glenys also worked as part of a self-funded cleft lip and palate surgical team travelling to Nepal each year to organise and provide high-quality nursing care for post-operative patients. Despite the challenges associated with limited resources and minimal facilities I saw how Glenys still provided nursing care to children and families that was of the highest standard. At the same time she mentored and supported her colleagues and overcame language and cultural barriers to guide, educate and up-skill Nepalese nurses. Despite dealing with serious long-term illness Glenys also went on to coordinate the Nepal Burns Surgery project.

Because of her long-term relationships with many Nepalese families, Glenys recognised that education was a key determinant of health for children, especially girls, in this impoverished country. Consequently she established and coordinated the educational sponsorship of nearly 200 children. Glenys was a quiet but profound leader who lived the mantra ‘leaders see the problem, own the problem and solve the problem’. Addendum: A few days after this post was written Glenys passed away. She left a tremendous legacy. RIP my friend.


Pamela van der Riet

Pamela is a palliative care nurse, scholar and researcher of international repute. However, what inspires me most about Pamela is the way she leads with gentleness and humility. Few people who meet Pamela fail to be inspired by her values-driven approach to her work. She has taken on multiple academic roles and her strong, fair and empathic leadership is respected by everyone she interacts with.

For decades Pamela’s students have been enthralled by her commitment to holistic nursing practice informed by a depth of knowledge about complementary and alternative therapies. Her teaching gives students insights into non-traditional approaches to healthcare and for many years she has led groups of students on cultural study tours in Thailand where they learn about primary health care, Thai massage, herbal therapies and meditation etc.

As part of her commitment to the creation of environments that promote healing Pamela led the development of a fairy garden in Lampang Thailand in what was previously an unused area full of rocks and weeds. The fairy garden is between two paediatric hospital wards where many children are undergoing care for serious, chronic and often terminal, conditions. Since its development the garden has become a much used resource that improves the quality of life for the children and their families. Pamela takes nursing students back to the hospital each year where they spend time maintaining and improving the garden.

Pamela’s research with her colleagues from Thailand explored the impact of the garden and found that it promotes the children’s happiness, social interaction and learning. For family members the garden provides an environment where they can play with their children or relax while their children receive treatments.

Pamela is not a ‘typical’ academic. She challenges the status quo, speaks out against inequity and negative workplace behaviours, and she is driven by a commitment to improving the lives of both students and patients. I have been truly privileged to experience and observe how Pamela’s leadership has influenced and inspired so many people. To learn more about Pamela go to: https://www.newcastle.edu.au/profile/pamela-vanderriet

International Nurses Day: Nurses, A Voice to Lead: https://youtu.be/ponG_70f97k

And from Erin Scaturchio … ‘The tears are ok’ https://soundcloud.com/erin70/the-tears-are-ok



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *