"Something I learned very early in my career is that one letter to a politician is worth much more than a New England Journal of Medicine publication."
From working on the wards at Wollongong Hospital in the 1970s, Patricia Davidson has established herself as a world leader in nursing education. She spoke to Jen Waters about the changing face of nursing.
The status and role of nurses has advanced significantly in recent years, but according to Professor Patricia Davidson, demonstrating the profession’s critical role as equal partners in healthcare remains a pressing challenge.
“We know that patients have better outcomes in hospitals and healthcare facilities where nurses are more educated, but often nursing is just considered on the budget line as a cost,” she explains.
“We really need to demonstrate our value proposition to improving healthcare, particularly for nurses in advanced practice roles.”
As one of the United States’ most influential leaders in nursing education – the culmination of four decades as a nurse and award-winning researcher – Prof Davidson is well placed to comment on the state of play. Since her appointment in 2013 as Dean of the prestigious Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in Baltimore, she has established new degrees, doubled the school’s PhD student intake and overseen the nation’s highest ranking Master of Nursing program.
She has also leveraged the university’s resources and global outlook to boost engagement at local, national and international level, advocating for the profession and building research capacity and pathways for nurses, including the recent establishment of a Doctor of Nursing Practice program in Saudi Arabia.
Prof Davidson was surprised and humbled to be tapped on the shoulder for one of nursing academia’s top jobs, and jumped at the opportunity to drive real and global advancement for nursing and for women.
“The Johns Hopkins brand really allows you to do a lot of great things. My appointment has been a strong signal of the quality of Australian nursing, and I’ve been able to facilitate valuable connections for many people, including the University of Wollongong.”
Prof Davidson started out as a nurse at Wollongong Hospital in 1977, gaining an early exposure to coronary and critical care and the importance of quality palliative care that was to shape her career.
“In the Wollongong Hospital coronary care unit in the 70s, it was not uncommon to have several patients die on a shift. Now we have all these innovative methods of care and people are living longer, but that’s not necessarily accompanied by optimal health,” she says.
“I later had a sentinel event with a patient where I felt their death was not as good as it could be. It really motivated and inspired me to develop innovative models of care and to have a strong voice in that debate.”
It was while working on heart failure clinical trials that Prof Davidson really saw the potential of nurse-led research to impact individuals, families and communities. Armed with a UOW Bachelor of Arts in Education and Master of Education, followed later by a University of Newcastle PhD, she embarked on the next phase of her professional life.
In the ensuing decade, Prof Davidson worked to transform cardiovascular and chronic care as a researcher and educator for the University of Western Sydney and University of Technology Sydney (UTS), alongside adjunct professorial roles for a host of other leading universities in Australia and abroad. In 2010 she founded the UTS Centre for Cardiovascular and Chronic Care, a leader in interdisciplinary, person-centred research and health planning in chronic illness, and remains UTS’s Professor of Cardiovascular and Chronic Care.
Her body of work has contributed immeasurably to health research and practice globally. Widely touted as an international leader in cardiac health for women and vulnerable and underserved populations, she has established innovative nurse-coordinated models in heart failure, cardiac rehabilitation and palliative care. She has garnered around $28 million in competitive research funding, co-authored in excess of 420 peer-reviewed journal articles and 35 book chapters, and has presented at more than 300 conferences internationally.
Prof Davidson believes that true impact lies at the interface between policy, practice, education and research.
“Something I learned very early in my career is that one letter to a politician is worth much more than a New England Journal of Medicine publication. If you really want an impact on the outcomes, just doing your research and publishing it and talking to other scientists is not sufficient.
“I have this mantra: it’s not evidence until it’s published, and your job’s not finished until your intervention is part of usual care best practice.”
She gives generously of her wisdom and experience, and in 2016 added the Eureka Prize for Outstanding Mentor of Young Researchers to her numerous accolades. Now in what she describes as the legacy years of her career, Prof Davidson plans to expand her focus on mentoring others to shape the future of healthcare and on making a meaningful and enduring contribution to Australian Indigenous health.
“Like many Australians, I am ashamed and dismayed by the treatment of our Indigenous people, but sometimes it’s hard to know how you can intervene and move on. I’d like to really think about how we, as Australians, can work to address the terrible health disparities in Indigenous communities.”
Prof Patricia Davidson
Bachelor of Arts, 1985
Master of Education, 1993