Head of Curtin University’s School of Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedicine Professor Phillip Della was presented the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Honour at the Western Australian Nursing and Midwifery Excellence Awards earlier this year.
Professor Della is arguably most well-known for his position as Chief Nursing Officer of Western Australia from 1999 to 2008. In this role, he created opportunities for the future leaders of the nursing and midwifery professions. This included establishing the role of nurse practitioners, the enhanced role of the midwife, NurseWest and Graduate Nurse Connect.
Professor Della was recognised in this lifetime achievement honour for his contribution to healthcare service delivery, nursing and midwifery education, as well as legislation and governance at local, state and national levels throughout his career.
He spoke with Natalie Dragon about his career and the future of the profession.
What does a lifetime achievement award mean to you?
This really is a recognition of achievements that have been a team effort with many nurses and midwives that I have had the pleasure to work with over the years. It is also a recognition for my wife Maria and my sons Jonathan, Luke, Peter and Liam, who have supported me to take time out of our family life to work on professional issues, national and international committees, study and research.
Why did you choose nursing?
Nursing was a profession that I started after trying the business world. I went into nursing as I needed to do something in the caring professions. During my high school years, I was a St John Ambulance cadet, and the registered nurses who provide lectures in the course impressed me with their knowledge, skills and abilities. So after a short stint in the business world, I started my nurse training at St John of God Hospital, Subiaco.
What have been your highlights in 40 years of nursing?
There have been many changes in my 40 years of nursing, and the changes have all been for the better. With improvements in clinical care, education and recognition of the professions. From a clinical perspective, improvements in how we care for our patients is the greatest achievement. Nurses and midwives not only provide safe and quality care but many lead the safety and quality agenda at an international, state, and local level. The advanced practice roles for nurses and midwives has allowed greater access to care for patients with improvement in clinical outcomes. I have been privileged to be a part of this advancement from a policy and education perspective. The appointment of nurses and midwives to Boards of Management, Vice Chancellors, Chief Executive Officers and many leadership roles is a recognition of the value of nurses and midwives.
What are your greatest achievements in your eyes?
To commence with my greatest achievement was completing my nursing, midwifery and intensive care qualifications. These qualifications provided the platform to allow me to do many things in the future. This included taking a policy role in the health department and introducing alternative nurse rostering, the career structure, the nurse practitioner role, the enhanced role of the midwife, NurseWest and Graduate Nurse Connect. Together this experience has allowed me to chair the development of the new standards for accreditation of educational programs leading registration and chair the National Communication for Safety Standard. These achievements have been built on a clinical background where the care of patients was a central focus: I will always remember the first baby I delivered as a midwife; the first open heart surgery patient I cared for in intensive care.
Did you think starting out you would have achieved what you have?
When I started nursing my ambition was to become a registered nurse and remain in the clinical area. This however changed as I recognised that in order to change, to improve patient care and enhance the nursing and midwifery professions, I needed to take on a leadership role.
What characteristics do you think are important in nursing and leadership?
A vision for the future, with a commitment to achieve results. The characteristics of a good leader are determination, caring, compassion, and the ability to learn. Leadership is the ability to bring about change and to bring people with you. A good leader is someone who has the vision for the future, the ability to change and passion for making it happen. A good leader must also value the past and build on this platform for the future.
What have been your greatest obstacles or challenges?
The greatest obstacles or challenges are often artificial. With barriers put in the way to stop the advancement of the nursing profession and one’s career. We need to be able to move through these obstacles and barriers and move forward to achieve outcomes for both patients and ourselves. The future supply of nurses and midwives must be a central focus of policymakers as without nurses and midwives the health of our community will suffer.
What future outcomes would you like to see for the profession both in Australian and internationally?
The future outcomes for nursing and midwifery must be aligned with safe and quality patient care. Nurses and midwives are the leaders in safety and quality. To achieve this the full scope of practice in both nursing and midwifery needs to be achieved. This includes advanced practice, nursing and midwifery-led research and leadership in the health environment. Leadership must not only be in the clinical area but at the policy-setting agenda in government at a national and international level. Australian nurses and midwives are now achieving the recognition the professions deserve. Our challenge now is to work with developing countries to assist the nursing and midwifery professions in enhancing their practice, education and research.
I believe nursing and midwifery have a strong future and together the professions can advance to improve the health for all.
Professor Della is currently the National Chair for the Clinical Communication for Safety Standard and the Chair of the Registered Nurse Committee of the Australian Nursing Midwifery Accreditation Council. He is an active researcher and currently leads a National Australian Research Grant into transitions of care. He is a member of the International Clinical Communication Research Centre.