Born to teach nursing

First published 6 September 2011

Two passions – teaching and nursing - have combined for James Cook University’s new Head of School for the School of Nursing, Midwifery & Nutrition, Associate Professor Lee Stewart.

Associate Professor Stewart, who took up her position earlier this month, has been a member of the academic staff of the School since 2003.

She has an extensive background in the health industry, particularly in North Queensland.

Born in Brisbane and raised in Stanthorpe, Associate Professor Lee started her nursing career in Stanthorpe, then completed her hospital based nursing certificate at the Ipswich General Hospital.

She practised midwifery at Mater Mothers’ Hospital in Brisbane and the then-Crown

Street Women’s Hospital, which had the first birthing suite in Australia.

She worked for BlueCare as a community nurse in Brisbane before moving to Townsville, where she was employed at the Townsville General Hospital as a midwife and surgical nurse.

The young nurse then made the move into nursing education.

“When working as a community nurse, I always knew I wanted to teach nurses and midwives. I completed Year 12 maths, physics and chemistry so I could move on to tertiary education,” Associate Professor Lee said.

She completed a Diploma of Nursing Education in the mid 1980s in Armidale, NSW, which had the only external nursing post-graduate program in Australia at the time.

She completed a Bachelor of Nursing at Central Queensland University before becoming interested in dispute resolution.

“I worked as a mediator with Queensland’s Community Justice Program, then completed a Masters in Dispute Resolution at the University of Technology in Sydney.”

This helped her immensely with her role as a nurse educator and nurse leader, she said.

“It’s about leadership, and managing conflict well,” she said.

“My passion is nursing leadership, how effective you can be, and how that motivates satisfied nurses to provide the highest quality patient care.

“The same applies to effective leadership in an academic environment.

“In the end it leads to happy, motivated staff in the School, and therefore the highest quality of teaching, learning and research happens.”

Associate Professor Lee also completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Education at JCU, before coming to work at JCU in 2003 and commencing her PhD, which she completed in 2008.

This time included stints in Fiji, a country with which JCU Nursing & Midwifery has close ties, providing her nursing leadership skills, including clinical governance, risk management, and acting as an advisor to the Fiji Ministry of Health.

JCU now offers a Masters in Nursing Leadership, which is offered in Fiji and across the Pacific.

Associate Professor Lee said her plan, or vision, was for the School to be a world-class school of Tropical Nursing, Midwifery and Nutrition.

JCU’s direct contact with rural, remote and Indigenous health issues would help ensure this status, she said.

“From my point of view, because of where we are situated, we are in a perfect position to undertake research, provide undergraduate and postgraduate education, meet the needs of the region, right across the Northern region,” she said.

“We have a particular focus on Indigenous education to contribute to ‘Closing the Gap’.”

Associate Professor Lee acknowledged outgoing Head of School, Associate Professor David Lindsay, and her other predecessors.

“I come into the role with a terrific legacy left by three previous heads of School – Emeritus Professor Barbara Hayes, Professor Kim Usher and Associate Professor David Lindsay.

“The work of these people will help me to achieve my goals over the next five years.”

Associate Professor Lee can be contacted on 4781 4261.