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Meet Deputy National Rural Health Commissioner, Adjunct Prof. Shelley Nowlan

30 Aug 2021

Primary healthcare, women’s health, rural nursing, rural midwifery, and shining a light on nursing in the bush are key priorities set by the new Deputy National Rural Health Commissioner.

Queens­land Chief Nurs­ing and Mid­wifery Offi­cer Adjunct Pro­fes­sor Shel­ley Nowl­an is the sec­ond Deputy Nation­al Rur­al Health Com­mis­sion­er appoint­ed to assist the Office of the Nation­al Rur­al Health Com­mis­sion­er, Pro­fes­sor Dr Ruth Stewart.

This fol­lows the appoint­ment of Asso­ciate Pro­fes­sor Dr Faye McMil­lan AM in May.

Adjunct Pro­fes­sor Shel­ley Nowl­an has been charged with play­ing a key role in the fed­er­al government’s agen­da to increase access to rur­al health ser­vices and address rur­al work­force shortages.

As the inau­gur­al Deputy Nation­al Rur­al Health Com­mis­sion­er rep­re­sent­ing nurs­ing and mid­wifery, I want to make sure from the start we open up con­ver­sa­tions more broad­ly with nurs­ing and mid­wifery and oth­er health professionals.

I want to shine a light on rur­al and remote health, cap­tur­ing the essence of rur­al gen­er­al­ism in nursing.”

What should it look like for nurs­ing? What is the breadth of scope of prac­tice, what are the qual­i­fi­ca­tions, knowl­edge and skills required? Allied health has gone down that path and there has been a body of work been undertaken.

I also want to explore the role of rur­al mid­wives in rur­al women’s health. Healthy com­mu­ni­ties are pros­per­ous communities.”

My role will involve a nurs­ing and mid­wifery focus: on women’s health net­work; attri­tion – the work­force under­stand­ing recruit­ment and reten­tion of nurs­es in rur­al and pri­ma­ry health­care inter­dis­ci­pli­nary teams; and work­ing with First Nations Health Care Work­ers which is essen­tial for the ongo­ing care to communities.”

Pro­fes­sor Nowl­an has over 30 years’ expe­ri­ence in health­care, includ­ing emer­gency and aero- med­ical retrieval in south-east Queens­land, before mov­ing into peri­op­er­a­tive services.

She gained expe­ri­ence in clin­i­cal gov­er­nance and lead­er­ship and was Direc­tor of Nurs­ing at Caloun­dra Hos­pi­tal before she moved to Cen­tral Queens­land where she was Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Nurs­ing for region­al, rur­al and remote services.

I’ve done beach to bush, city to coast, ocean to outback.”

She has also worked in children’s health, assist­ing the com­mis­sion­ing of the Queens­land Children’s Hos­pi­tal and rur­al domi­cil­iary nursing.

As Queensland’s Chief Nurs­ing and Mid­wifery Offi­cer, Pro­fes­sor Nowlan’s role is to pro­vide advice on all mat­ters of nurs­ing and mid­wifery across Queens­land. This includes lead­ing, advo­cat­ing and sup­port­ing nurs­es and mid­wives to pro­vide qual­i­ty, safe care for Queens­land com­mu­ni­ties through pol­i­cy, direc­tion and regulation.

Nation­al Rur­al Health Com­mis­sion­er Ruth Stew­art said Pro­fes­sor Nowl­an had worked for decades to ensure nurs­es and mid­wives met the needs of peo­ple liv­ing in rur­al and region­al Australia.

Pro­fes­sor Nowlan’s work in strate­gic health pol­i­cy, health reform, inno­va­tion and pro­gram eval­u­a­tion has sup­port­ed the deliv­ery of nurse and mid­wifery care in com­mu­ni­ties across Queensland.”

For­mer Min­is­ter for Region­al Health Mark Coul­ton MP acknowl­edged Pro­fes­sor Nowlan’s long­stand­ing inter­est in the health out­comes of rur­al and remote Aus­tralians. Min­is­ter Dr Gille­spie will now head up this Min­is­te­r­i­al portfolio.

Pro­fes­sor Nowlan’s pro­fes­sion­al qual­i­fi­ca­tions and prac­ti­cal expe­ri­ence will pro­vide real-world knowl­edge and insight to health­care chal­lenges in coun­try Aus­tralia,” Coul­ton said.

The sev­enth in line of eight chil­dren, Pro­fes­sor Nowl­an grew up in Tent Hill, a rur­al local­i­ty in the Lock­y­er Val­ley Region, one hour west of Bris­bane. Her fam­i­ly were small crop, beef and dairy cat­tle farmers.

There were eight of us chil­dren. Mum had six of us in sev­en years. I was num­ber sev­en and fol­lowed by a younger sis­ter. So, I know what it’s like liv­ing in the coun­try, in a big fam­i­ly and the chal­lenge of access to healthcare.”

She has expe­ri­enced tragedy with­in her own fam­i­ly: one of her broth­ers died in a trag­ic car acci­dent which inspired her to do emer­gency nurs­ing; and she lost anoth­er broth­er to suicide.

These expe­ri­ences have fuelled her pas­sion for per­son-cen­tred care and a peo­ple-ori­ent­ed approach to lead­er­ship in health. She has spent 17 years in a range of met­ro­pol­i­tan, region­al and rur­al pub­lic sec­tor exec­u­tive clin­i­cal and health admin­is­tra­tive lead­er­ship roles at a strate­gic and oper­a­tional level.

This includes sig­nif­i­cant expe­ri­ence in the devel­op­ment and imple­men­ta­tion of patient mod­els of care and care innovations.

I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to open up Queensland’s Rur­al Clin­i­cal Net­work Meet­ing held in asso­ci­a­tion with the Rur­al Doc­tors Asso­ci­a­tion of Queens­land (RDAQ) con­fer­ence on the Gold Coast last week and shine a light on inter- dis­ci­pli­nary mod­els of care and nurs­es work­ing to top of licence’ to meet com­mu­ni­ty needs.”

The new appoint­ment in the Office of Deputy Nation­al Rur­al Health Com­mis­sion­er will ini­tial­ly involve wide­spread stake­hold­er engage­ment. Pro­fes­sor Nowl­an had already met with Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment Chief Nurs­ing and Mid­wifery Offi­cer Ali­son McMil­lan, Aus­tralian Col­lege of Nurs­ing (ACN) Chief Exec­u­tive Kylie Ward and CRANAplus CEO Kather­ine Isbis­ter in Can­ber­ra in May.

Kather­ine and I leapt at the oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­nect, where I was able to hear direct­ly what is CRANAplus’ focus and strate­gies for rur­al and remote nurses.

We will con­tin­ue to meet and dis­cuss key issues and strategies.”

As Deputy Com­mis­sion­er, Pro­fes­sor Nowl­an would pro­vide expert advice and con­tribute to devel­op­ing new and inno­v­a­tive ways to pro­vide health ser­vices to peo­ple in rur­al and remote Aus­tralia,” Ms Isbis­ter said.

CRANAplus has been advo­cat­ing for a stronger nurs­ing focus in the office of the Nation­al Rur­al Health Com­mis­sion­er for sev­er­al years and we are delight­ed to see this posi­tion final­ly realised.”

We look for­ward to work­ing with Pro­fes­sor Nowl­an over the com­ing months to iden­ti­fy key pri­or­i­ty areas for rur­al and remote nurs­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly in rela­tion to work­force pipeline and retention.”

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