Nurse to leading executive: Celebrating women in healthcare

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If you give women the right environment in which to succeed, they will flourish – that is the message from one leading medical executive on International Women's Day.

Dr Jeanette Conley is one of the million-plus women who work in Australian healthcare, an industry where females make up 75 percent of the workforce.

Now a Medical Executive with Adventist HealthCare that oversees Sydney Adventist Hospital (the San), the largest private hospital in New South Wales, she has climbed the healthcare workforce ladder during the past 38 years – from nurse to junior doctor, military doctor, medical director and executive.

“I’ve found the healthcare sector to be a great environment for a woman to work in. Women do get equal pay for equal hours and roles worked, and there can be roles that fit well with family needs,” Dr Conley said.

“I was able to work part-time for most of the kids' school years. Other than when I chose to work part-time, I never found that being a woman held me back. I was here to do a job and in many ways that was gender neutral and there were lots of opportunities for advancement.”

Dr Conley reflects fondly on her 13 years as an officer with the Royal Australian Navy.

“I joined at a time when women weren’t allowed to go to sea, but eventually it became mandatory for both males and females and I spent a year as doctor on HMAS Success.

“It really taught me that women can flourish when there is commitment to make the right environment and culture,” said Dr Conley, who will be a speaker at the Australian Private Hospitals Association's 37th National Congress on 18-20 March 2018.

Charlene Miate, meanwhile, is one of 1,100 female nurses at the San. Based in Wahroonga, it employs 1,800 women in its 2,400-strong workforce.

As part of the worldwide celebrations for International Women's Day on Thursday 8 March, Ms Miate expressed her satisfaction at being able to make a difference in people's lives.

“As a nurse I can be nurturing, compassionate and empathetic – and I love working with people who care. Sometimes I see the amazing difference they make reassuring and comforting someone and the difference it makes. Then I realise, gee, I get that chance too.

“What women do in healthcare is important. I love it,” said Ms Miate, whose sister is also a nurse.

The San has more than 300 female doctors, and over 400 women volunteers, but there are still sectors in the industry where men dominate.

Less than five percent of Australia's orthopaedic surgeons are women -- the San's Dr Mich Atkinson is one of them.

“It is a shame given the demand, especially when women are so capable, inclusive and empathetic,” Dr Atkinson said.

She has championed International Women's Day at the hospital.

“International Women’s Day gives us a chance to recognise, thank and encourage. It’s good for the individuals, but better still, it’s our North Shore community who will benefit as women who have chosen caring careers reach their potential,” she added.

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