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