The beating heart of nursing

Today we celebrate International Nurses Day – and the 2023 theme “Future of Nursing” couldn’t be more on point!

Nursing Korero OP News 11 May 23

Jane Wilson, Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer Te Whatu Ora, Laura MacDonald, Bachelor of Nursing graduate, Leonie Clent, OSM, NZGSM, former Head of School of Nursing at Otago Polytechnic, Professor Karole Hogarth, Head of Nursing Otago Polytechnic, Amberley Thomson, nurse and Clinical Project Manager, New Dunedin Hospital

As the first Head of School of Nursing at Otago Polytechnic in 1984, Leonie Clent (OSM, NZGSM) has helped lay the foundation for many successful nursing careers. She recently joined Jane Wilson, Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer Te Whatu Ora, and Bachelor of Nursing graduate Laura MacDonald in an informal meeting at which the trio answered questions about their motivations, resilience and passion for the profession.

What led you to a career in nursing?

Leonie Clent

"It was at the tail-end of the Vietnam War. I was qualified as a social worker and was working with people with alcohol and drug dependency in Wellington and Auckland when I saw an advertisement to go with the Red Cross to Vietnam.

"Within two weeks of having an interview, I was in Vietnam with a team of four working with Malay people in the highlands.

"The frontline was getting increasingly closer to us all the time. It was dangerous, but we didn't feel it was at the time because we had so much to do.

"I became very close with Matt Riding, a member of our team. One night Matt went to Cambodia to pick up something. On his return his plane was hit, and everyone on board was killed. I came back to New Zealand after that."

“You just never stopped being a nurse. It's in you somehow”

Leoni Clent

OSM, NZGSM, former Head of School of Nursing at Otago Polytechnic

Jane Wilson

"My mother was a nurse and worked at what is now known as Mercy Hospital. When I was in 7th form at school, I volunteered at the hospital as a nurse aide, what is now known as a healthcare assistant.

"I remember meeting Leonie for the first time in the staff tea-room. She asked me what I was volunteering for. I told her I always wanted to be a nurse. I got on the payroll the next school holidays.

"I didn't know it at the time but, a few months later, Leonie had started to set up the first Nursing diploma programme at Otago Polytechnic.

"Back then, when you went into nursing, you had a face-to-face interview. And who was there to interview me when I applied for the diploma? Yes, Leonie."

“I’ve never looked back in choosing nursing as a career. Despite the challenges, it is a most rewarding career.” ”

Jane Wilson

Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer Te Whatu Ora

Laura MacDonald

"My journey to the nursing profession started a bit later in my life, as I had to wait until I received my NZ Residency status to be able to study as a domestic student. I began my nursing degree at age 27, as a ‘mature’ student.

"I kind of got into healthcare by accident after falling off a horse. And I guess it's kind of, you know, like looking after animals like horses, and then looking after people, it's very similar, you know, they reflect you as well.

"Before moving into nursing, I worked with NHS Highland, Scotland, and at a local rest home in my rural hometown of Thurso. I worked for Ryman Healthcare for four years as a Senior Caregiver then with Te Whatu Ora Southern as a healthcare assistant, starting out in the general surgery wards, before moving up to ICU and occasionally offering to do patient watches.

"So even though it took me a while to become a registered nurse, I do have valuable experience within healthcare settings."

“It felt a bit daunting returning to study but I was determined to give it my all on this new pathway.” ”

Laura MacDonald

Bachelor of Nursing graduate

Can you shed some light on nursing pathways and how they have evolved?

Leonie Clent

"Nursing used to be all about hospital work. It was never in the community. Until we began comprehensive training, it was difficult to get older nurses to accept that those involved in community-based care could be very good nurses.

"There was a lot of resistance. But we knew we had to try and increase the nursing expertise out in the community, to where people needed it.

"The biggest part for me was going around the southern regions and talking with GPs, because we wanted to get nurses into GP practices to boost that notion of preventative care."

Jane Wilson

"Preventative care, theory of practice and critical thinking have gone from strength to strength.

"Now, there is funding for postgraduate education and the introduction of the entry-to-practice year.

"There are strong employment opportunities throughout a nursing career, and we maximise student placements and recruitment of nurses from the day they graduate.

"Nursing offers so many career pathways and specialty areas of practice to work in.  You develop a breadth of skills that are transferable to different roles or settings across the entire health system – not just in practice, but also education, leadership, research and management."


What are you most excited about for the future of nursing and healthcare?

Jane Wilson

"I believe nursing has got such a breadth of scope to contribute across the board to better health outcomes.

"I envisage a growth in nurse-led practices, and a big push to focus on prevention.

"I’m also excited about working more inter-professionally with colleagues. This includes the proposed Interprofessional Learning Centre, as part of the wider New Dunedin Hospital project.

"Yet despite all the technological advances over the years, much of nursing still comes down to interactions with people."


Laura MacDonald

"Although the current shortage of nurses is worrying, I believe there are plenty of opportunities to progress. But I do think nursing needs to diversify away from a largely female-oriented role.

"I’m excited to see where opportunities and pathways into nursing open up for neuro-diverse learners in the future.

"And I’m really excited to see how the state-of-the-art digital systems in the New Dunedin Hospital will streamline our nursing processes.”

Published on 12 May 2023