Early in my career, I became a military nursing officer—Captain Kirk! I held appointments in Germany and Hong Kong before returning to England to develop new community-based services. After I left the Army, I spent a few years studying part-time. When I resumed clinical work, I wanted a new challenge, something that made a difference.
I had learned about occupational health in the military, living next door to the United Kingdom’s Institute of Naval Medicine and working with colleagues experiencing exposures ranging from noise to diving pressure. I had witnessed firsthand the health risks in nursing, from needle-stick injuries to stress, and it seemed an interesting area of practice. I arranged to work some shifts covering for the occupational health team at a local hospital. Within a few months, I had a permanent appointment at a university teaching hospital a few miles away.
Working in health care, I was seeing a large number of musculoskeletal disorders ranging from back pain among nurses to upper limb pain among sonographers. I wrote my first business plan seeking $200,000 for new equipment. Not only did I secure the funding, I then leveraged the budget to purchase more equipment. I earned a certificate in ergonomics, and spent more time coaching colleagues, before formally taking leadership of the training team.
I was interested in strategic issues and the impact leaders have on organizations. I wanted to understand what distinguished effective from ineffective leaders. I decided to earn a master’s degree at Manchester Business School. To explore behavior change, I arranged to spend part of my program at Cape Town School of Management investigating the success of social marketing in HIV prevention.
I found the research on nursing leadership in North America inspiring and decided to replicate the study in the United Kingdom. With support from colleagues, I began my first primary research project—the first study of nurse executive effectiveness in the United Kingdom. I never thought I would be publishing research. Without really intending, I was setting a standard in occupational health nursing that was warmly acclaimed by my peers.
Interest in research, leadership, and HIV has stayed with me. I have been involved in national programs in all these areas and in evidence-based practice projects with the Royal College of Physicians and the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE). I have researched advanced practice and am building relationships because I hope to introduce a new certification in the United Kingdom.
The next stage is to spend more time supporting peers. I am studying yet again—this time so I can teach others—and I have started building formal links with three universities. I do not want to lose touch with the people who matter most, our clients, so I spend a few days each week in the occupational health unit, seeing clients, visiting workplaces, and meeting managers.