Kylie Ward, CEO, Australian College of Nursing

Kylie Ward: Sculpting Expert Caregivers through Comprehensive Nursing Education

The field of nursing is in the midst of a significant transformation—considering the impact of the pandemic—that will redefine what it means to be a nurse today and into the future.

Nurses today are empowered to use complex technology on their terms, make more informed decisions about patient care with access to data at their fingertips, and contribute new insights about how comprehensive and quality care can be delivered more effectively.

As we move from an era where nurses were mostly restricted to hospital settings to one with enormous scope for professional autonomy, nurses must also rethink what it means to be ethically responsible for patients’ well-being outside the walls of traditional hospitals.

For any nurse to achieve this level of expertise, the level of education and training required must be unparalleled. And The Australian College of Nursing (ACN) leaves no stones unturned in delivering such quality of training and education.

In perspective, no matter the size or industry, every organization needs a beacon of light to stay on the path to excellence. Thus, through our edition, the 10 Most Influential Business Leaders in Australia and New Zealand, we take you through the story and journey of Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward FACN and CEO of The Australian College of Nursing.

Kylie has served as the CEO of ACN since 2015, and over that time, the College has grown to become Australia’s beacon for Nurse Leadership. “For me, education should be a right and not a privilege which is why I have diversified our education offerings to accredited and non-accredited, and we give millions of dollars of free education away each year,” she expresses.

“I also love that nurses’ hunger for life-long learning, acquiring extensive knowledge to deliver clinical excellence, provide the best pedagogy in education, best practice in leadership and management, all ensuring excellent care delivery,” Kylie adds.

Kylie is passionate about making lasting impacts. For this reason, she has led the work in establishing the ACN Foundation, launched Nurse Strong, and has been instrumental in numerous key national policy campaigns that support greater access and equity for all.

Kylie also holds honorary academic appointments with five Australian Universities. She was ministerially appointed to ADHA and NHMRC Health Translation Advisory Committee. She won the Telstra Businesswoman of the Year in ACT for Purpose and Social Enterprise in 2017, and in 2020, Kylie was named one of the Top 100 Health Voices for LinkedIn worldwide.

Opinions that matter

Sharing her opinion regarding the impact of the pandemic on the global healthcare sector and how ACN overcame the challenges rooting from the pandemic, Kylie says, “The global pandemic has highlighted the importance of universal healthcare, the disadvantage and divide that exists globally, gender inequality, racism and that access to health care should be a human right. Women are the dominant workforce in healthcare globally and have been at the forefront in caring for their families and their communities. Will they really get the recognition they deserve when we are on the other side of this pandemic, or is it expected deep in the psyche that we are carers and then can get on with it afterward? The WHO announced last week that 115,000 health care workers globally have died from COVID, leaving children orphaned and people scarred, yet nurses still turn up and help others through difficult times.”

“This should not go unnoticed, undervalued, or underappreciated. The global pandemic provides an opportunity to remind every citizen of the importance of access and equity to healthcare services and the need to shift from traditional models of delivery and funding to support people where they live and a focus on community and primary health care, as well as building healthy communities including housing, employment, welfare, safety, food supply, clean water, and education. It will take a shift in the powerbrokers and decision-makers of where they place value, including in salaries, wages, and conditions,” she adds.

When asked for her opinion on the necessity for healthcare organizations to align their offerings with newer technological developments, Kylie says, “I am a strong advocate for the adoption of the digital platform, for interoperability and for consumers to be empowered to hold and have their own health care records through the use of the My Health Record.”

“The delivery of care should always be evidence-based and include new, and emerging technologies to be introduced as this provides the opportunity to be less invasive, have faster recovery times, and even through the use of apps and wearing technologies enables people to monitor their own health care to inform clinicians and be partners in their needs,” she states.

Overcoming adversities

During the pandemic, to sustain operations all the while ensuring the safety of ACN’s employees, Kylie led the development of a critical strategy—the COVID-19 Nurses Support Strategy—which provided practical help and a six-pronged approach: Information, Upskilling, Advocacy, Support, Changes to the Health Care System and Community Awareness.

This strategy needed to immediately address the need for accurate research and clinical procedures, as the landscape was moving fast. The strategy resulted in the design, development, and launch of:

  • COVID-19 Disclosure Portal for anonymous complaints
  • COVID-19 information for nurses – links to the latest information (there was a real need to find the latest research and information on the unknown Coronavirus)
  • Live Q and A sessions for nurses (what to do, what not to do)
  • Mentoring systems extended and launched in some areas
  • Political advocacy for nurses on the PPE, moving between facilities, etc.
  • Promoted materials to use with patients
  • Established the NEO COVID-19 Forum for ongoing discussions about the virus

Kylie believes that the challenge facing the nursing profession is under-representation at the decision-making table of major health and policy issues. She highlights the fact that Australia’s 400,000 tertiary educated nurses keep the community, public, and aged care health system functioning.

“I am determined that ACN will lead the charge to ensure the profession is respected and consulted on,” Kylie expresses.

To champion this change, ACN has:

  • Provided $1M in scholarships to nurses to undertake leadership training
  • Developed and launched education for emerging, returning, and mid-career nurses

Envisioning Impactful Change

We asked Kylie what she would want to change about the healthcare education ecosystem in Australia, to which she said, “Two things I would like to see that would complement the ecosystem we already have is for all clinical specialties in their undergraduate years to have interprofessional learning at universities. Anatomy and physiology don’t change because you are a nurse, doctor, physiotherapy student, paramedic, or others, and I think the early encouragement of collegiality and teamwork as a postgraduate would be enhanced if undergraduate students were socialized and educated together where shared learnings are possible.”

“Secondly, I would like to see respect for our First Nations people with education relating to ‘bush medicine’ and traditional healing practices. If courses like this were offered in our current education system, it would reiterate the importance of ancient knowledge and wisdom and ensure this valuable knowledge is not lost for future generations,” she added.

Bequeathing the Keys to Excellence

As excerpts from her professional journey, Kylie shares her advice to those aspiring to venture towards the discipline of nursing. She says, “My advice for anyone considering a career in nursing is to understand you will devote the rest of your professional life to learning, and true to nursing philosophy – this should be undertaken through a holistic lens.”

“For the budding educationalists, I would encourage them to keep education and the sharing of knowledge interesting. Work to the needs of all students, not a conformist approach. Work hard to challenge belief systems of people and institutions and produce learners who have an inquiring mind, are critical thinkers, and are brave to question why things are the way they are. The future will require courageous people trying new things, and education is the key to unlock the door of confidence, conviction, and possibilities,” she expresses.

A Future Synonymous to Progress

Sharing her vision towards scaling ACN’s operations for the coming years, Kylie states, “My answer to this is not based on my titles or positions, rather in who I am as a person. My organization will sustain our stronghold moving forward because I will keep connected and connecting to the people we serve.”

“Relevance is the key factor to any successful business, and being able to combine vision with listening, learning, and delivering will keep us contemporary, inclusive, and successful. We are purpose-driven and will not lose sight of this in honor of where the nursing profession has come from and where we will go in the future,” she concludes.