Giving back to New Zealand as a Kiwi nurse

“A bit of shock – it’s fantastic timing, and I am very humbled to have received the award,” says Dr. Frances Hughes, the winner of Risk Professional of the Year 2022.

As a global health leader, Frances unflaggingly seeks to improve care for those who desperately need it with deep compassion, commitment, integrity, and social responsibility. As Oceania Healthcare’s Group General Manager Clinical and Care, she is a changemaker and pioneer who courageously works to transform systems, policies, and innovations related to care for those most vulnerable.

She has been described as “one of the most influential nurse leaders in the world.”

Frances Hughes

Frances’ professional journey began at Massey University in 1987, when she pursued her bachelor's degree in arts and social sciences, majoring in nursing.  

“Massey University brought me into contact with other nurses at high levels; it brought me into contact with different disciplines of knowledge; it granted an opportunity and opened doors for me as positions were because I had an undergraduate degree.”

During her studies, Frances was able to keep working full time, and she is grateful that Massey’s block courses allowed her to acquire knowledge while working.

“It was Massey’s extramural (education) that made it possible! Massey has been very strong on extramural. If Massey had not had extramural, many of us would not have had a degree and got a degree education.”

Immersed in developing in-depth knowledge, Frances completed twenty-one papers on sociology, education, and psychology in her undergraduate degree, with sociology as her favorite course because it taught her different ways of thinking.

In 2013, Frances was awarded a Distinguished Alumni Award from Massey. The memories of Massey campuses are so vivid that Frances clearly recalls, “I remember driving from Wellington where I live to Massey. I remember sharing hostel accommodation. I remember going to classes with people from all around New Zealand. I remember being on campus with vets and people doing animal science.”

A great passion for nursing motivated Frances to study further in the health sector. She was honored with a Doctor of Nursing, Health Policy by the University of Technology Sydney.

“Never stop learning! Professional development is around having a pathway, which increases your knowledge and skills but can assist you in decision making, and knowledge transfer to some of the patients and residents we work with,” Frances says.

Making a difference in people’s lives

From a young student to her position today, Frances describes her journey as “full of opportunity and complexity.”

At the regional, national, and global levels, Frances has demonstrated strategic leadership over complex health issues as a nurse and has influenced public policy domestically and internationally for over thirty years. Asked what motivated her to choose the sector within healthcare as a profession, Frances says she wanted something in which she could make a difference in people’s lives.

From 1998 to 2004, Frances was chief nurse for New Zealand and played a major leadership role in health care and nursing policy. She was instrumental in developing government policy around psychosocial emergency response, nurse prescribing, primary healthcare, health lines and rural schemes, mental health, and nurse practitioners.

From 2005 to 2011, Frances worked for WHO as facilitator for the Pacific Island Mental Health Network and worked with sixteen Pacific Island governments, supporting them to develop policies and plans to improve mental health. She also held part-time positions in the Ministry of Health NZ as principal consultant and deputy director of mental health for NZ. 

From 2012 to 2016, Frances was the chief nursing and midwifery officer for Queensland Health and succeeded in advancing the role of nursing and midwifery through her strong policy and research approach, which resulted in the 2015 incoming government allocating $500m to nursing and midwifery.

Frances was the CEO of the International Council of Nursing from 2016 to 2018, and she was also the first nurse to be awarded the Harkness Fellowship in Health Care Policy. She served as the commandant colonel for the Royal New Zealand Nursing Corps for seven years.

She has worked for NGOs in disability, service evaluation, and mental health through her consultancy. She held a part-time position as executive officer in a national disability group and established an NGO providing community residential support to those with complex mental illnesses. She has served on several domestic and international boards.

Devoted to serving the most vulnerable

As a New Zealander who has held senior management and nursing positions globally, a deep appreciation of New Zealand has always been there.

Frances used to call herself a Kiwi nurse, saying, “We hold our own well, we are well educated, we’ve got good nursing programs, our access to postgraduate programs is fabulous.” 

“I wanted to be able to contribute back to New Zealand.”

After living in Switzerland on the lake and by a river in Brisbane, Frances wanted to live by mountains, lakes, and rivers, so she returned to New Zealand and joined Oceania Healthcare in October 2019. Several months later, COVID-19 hit this country. “What timing it was!” shares Frances.

During the past three years, Frances has devoted herself to serving our most vulnerable – those in aged residential care and their nurses. When facing the pandemic, Frances believes it is challenging to keep providing care at a time for vulnerable people, trying to keep them well, and managing all the risks associated with the virus itself.

Struggling with staffing and taking advice on board from the ministry constantly, Frances spent many hours sitting in on meetings with the ministry and the DHBs of Public Health. Her utmost aim has been to keep our community safe.

In 2020, Frances was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to nursing and mental health. This year, she was awarded Risk Professional of the Year by Risk New Zealand for her work during the pandemic.

The award demonstrates Frances’ sustained risk leadership and contribution to making a significant difference to her organization, clients, and the broader risk management community and industry. 

Awards of Excellence 2022

“I was actually out of the country at the awards, and it was all virtual.” Still a bit astonished by the award, Frances notes that she was up against many other industries, including those non-healthcare related. 

“I felt very proud, and it’s wonderful being recognized when it’s outside of your industry. I have received other awards in recognition in my career, but this is fantastic timing. And I’m very humbled to have received it!” Frances says it is also remarkable that her organization – Oceania Healthcare – and all those who work in aged care have done extensive work over the last two years, keeping our people safe through COVID.

Looking into the future 

Following the pandemic, how can we go back to normal? Frances believes it has been easy to go into COVID and shut down, but it is not as easy to come out of it.

“A new normal, and it may be in different phases. We are constantly doing risk assessment by saying, ‘Yes, we can have certain things in place.’ However, we don’t need these other things; loneliness, depression, and psychological well-being will be very high on the agenda.”

Many students and alumni are currently diving into the healthcare sector. She shares her advice – "Play to your strengths and get involved in areas that will feed your soul and your passion.”