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Taking the lead - what makes a great nurse leader?

Taking the lead - what makes a great nurse leader?
Photo: Registered Nurse Lucy Osborn (far right)
When Arun Thomas left his home in India to study nursing in Australia, he had a passion for making a difference in peoples’ lives. But he couldn’t have imagined the career success that would follow as an inspiring and emerging nurse leader.

Appointed Minister for Health at Stawell Regional Health at 27 years old, Mr Thomas became one of the youngest public hospital directors in Victoria. He has since won a plethora of awards, including Victorian Young Achiever of the Year Award, Royal Flying Doctor Service Victoria Regional & Rural Health Achiever Award and the Celebrating Aged Care Leadership Award.

So, to what does he owe his success, and what makes a great leader? Mr Thomas says for him nursing is more than just a career – it’s a way of living by supporting, advocating and championing for better health, safety and access on behalf of those vulnerable in the community.
“I chose this respectful profession to inspire and serve my community through leading by example.

“Being a leader in the health care sector is all about being authentic, leading by example and saying yes to opportunities.

“It’s giving back to the profession through mentorship, empowering and inspiring others … and leaving a legacy of kind and courageous leadership.”

As part of the Australian College of Nursing (ACN) Emerging Nurse Leader (ENL) program, Mr Thomas has embraced opportunities to lead and to empower others.

“Leaders are lifelong learners, and as nurse leaders, we should never stop learning.

“We have to be proactive and responsible for our own learning so that we can lead by example.”

A leader listens, encourages, inspires and provides a safe space for others to be themselves, explains Mr Thomas.

“Being an active listener is one of the traits of being a leader.

“When we take the time to listen to someone, we should take the time to listen properly.

“It shows that we value the person, which is the ultimate form of respect.

“[Leaders] create a safe environment for their team to speak up. When people feel safe enough to raise their hands and say, I made a mistake, or I need some help, the leader has created an environment where their people feel safe to be themselves which enhances a safe work culture.”

Exceptional leaders stand up for and support others when they are experiencing challenges, says Mr Thomas.

“They encourage and push their people to take on bigger challenges through their unique ability to inspire and motivate people to believe in something beyond their limiting thinking.

“Leadership in health care and nursing is about people - inspiring people to believe the impossible is possible and developing and building people to perform at heights they never imagined.

“It’s about inspiring your team to become the very best version of themselves.”

Registered nurse Lucy Osborn says ACN’s ENL program has inspired her ambition to become Chief Nurse for Australia to create positive change in health care.

The program, which includes mentorship, shadowing an inspiring nurse, writing for publications and completing a leadership skills journal, has shaped the nurse she is today.

“The program has encouraged me to seek learning and career pathways I never thought I was capable of.

“It also provides a strong support network of amazing nurses around Australia and teaches early-career nurses how to network.

“I have gained the confidence to take leadership roles, not only clinically but also for my nursing community.

“When I started this program, I intended to build upon my leadership skills and become a well-rounded nurse.

“I still have these goals, but my current goals are now far beyond my wildest imagination.”

While this year has taken its toll, with the pandemic impacting her professionally and personally, the support of colleagues has made all the difference.

“This year has been a challenging time for everyone. For myself, it was a challenge as I live interstate from my family and have been on the frontline as a nurse — It’s been extraordinarily tiring.

“I found myself burning out and not being able to support others as much as I would like to.

“But with the support of my workplace and ACN, I’ve been able to ensure my own wellbeing while being a part of the ACN’s COVID-19 Support Team and working full time.

“There are opportunities around every corner to be a leader in health care, and I’m so proud to be a part of a career that is not only lifesaving but life-changing.”

Stefanie Dosen, ACN’s ENL Program Coordinator, says if nurses want to be part of Australia’s nursing future through innovation, change and positive leadership, this program is ideal.

“Our ENL program is unique as it’s tailored to suit nurses at various stages in their early careers.

“It is a self-paced and self-driven program, meaning participants are not overwhelmed. It’s designed to complement them as they progress in their careers.

“Our program assists in developing and engaging future nurse leaders through vibrant, timely and progressive support.

“They enter into a rewarding leadership journey where, with ACN’s support, they grow in confidence and establish a strong career foundation and leadership direction.”

So, who should pursue a future in health care leadership? Ms Dosen says aspiring leaders inspire others.

“They are passionate and people of high integrity. Great health care leaders courageously advocate for colleagues and patients in pursuit of their goals to enhance patient care.”


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Haley Williams

Haley Williams has a Bachelor of Communication in Journalism and over a decade of experience in the media, marketing and communications industries.

She is a widely published journalist with a particular interest in writing magazine features on parenting, health, fitness, nutrition and education.

Before becoming a freelance journalist, Haley worked as a writer for NeoLife (a worldwide nutrition company), News Limited and APN News & Media.

Haley also has extensive experience as an SEO Content Writer and Digital Marketing Strategist.