From outback to Geneva: Mount Isa nurse to lead 20 million at the International Council of Nursing
Other than prime ministers or presidents, few people can empathise with the pressure of acting on the behalf of 20 million people. But that is what Dr Isabelle Skinner has been elevated to do in her appointment as the chief executive officer of the International Council of Nursing (ICN).
As a federation of more than 130 national nursing associations, including the Australian College of Nursing, Dr Skinner will soon represent more than 20 million nurses worldwide.
“[The ICN] is a mechanism for nurses to influence policy, and that’s at a global level,” Dr Skinner said. “The job is based in Geneva in Switzerland, it’s a long way from Mount Isa.”
The ICN began in 1899 and strives to give nurses a voice in creating the best practices globally — something Dr Skinner said is not always an easy thing.
“Most nurses work for health departments so it’s actually quite difficult for an individual nurse to have a strong voice on policy issues,” she said.
“So all of the council of national nursing organisations get together every couple of years and think about what it is and that we want to really focus on … for the next two years.
“Then we’ll be working with the World Health Organisation or the United Nations to try and address some of the issues that are really important to nurses.”
Nursing in the early days
Dr Skinner, currently a senior research fellow for James Cook University’s Mount Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health, became at nurse at age 17 and has worked in numerous roles.
After completing training in the Royal Brisbane Hospital her first job was at Cloncurry Hospital.
PHOTO: Dr Isabelle Skinner will soon represent 20 million nurses worldwide and work alongside the World Health Organization. (ABC North West Queensland: Harriet Tatham)
“I’ve worked as a remote area nurse. I’ve been and midwife in neonatal intensive care. I’ve been a public health nurse. I’ve been a nurse manager and DON. And I’ve been a nurse researcher and a teacher,” she said.
Dr Skinner not only moved roles, but also locations — the Northern Territory and Katherine region in the mid-1980s, then through the nineties in WA’s Kimberley on the Dampier Peninsula.
It was in Broome she worked for the Kutjungka Health Service, and most recently she was back up in the Northern Territory out in Arnhem Land.
While her love for the profession has not wavered since she was a teenager, the practice of nursing has gone through major changes.
“When I first started, nurses were still trained in hospitals and so that was a very big change for nursing to move to the university sector,” Dr Skinner said.
“We’ve also moved to evidence-based practice. Certainly, when I started, you were told what to do by a nurse-in-charge. You just followed what they said.”
The benefit of remote nursing
While there is a widespread perception that some of the best career opportunities in healthcare come from metropolitan centres that are fitted with the latest technologies, Dr Skinner said she believed remote Australia was just an advantageous.
“You only get what you seek, and so if you seek to stay and in one place then that’s what you’ll get,” she said.
“But if you really want something different you can do that from anywhere. It doesn’t matter where you are.
“In fact, the chief nurse for the World Health Organisation comes from the Cook Islands, so it really doesn’t matter how remote you are. You can achieve, whatever it is you use seek.”
Dr Skinner will begin her role with the International Council of Nursing in Geneva in August.
ABC North West Qld By Harriet Tatham