Nursing a passion for a healthy community

Caring for the Sutherland Shire’s health.

Graduating from UOW over 25 years ago, Jill Deering has since put her knowledge and experience into improving the health of the Sutherland Shire community for the better.

Jill Deering knows the Sutherland Shire community better than most. She's lived there for more than 50 years and has seen it transform from a small community with one of the oldest populations in Australia to a bustling, socio-diverse city centre.  

But despite the multitude of changes, the health and welfare of the Shire has always been her passion.    

"Sutherland is a unique community in that we are only 45 minutes from the heart of CBD, but at the same time, we are a homogenous community surrounded by bodies of water," she says.  

"We are an island in the middle of Sydney.”  

Jill recalls how much the Sutherland Shire community has changed over the last 20 years. She's witnessed it transform into a cosmopolitan and diverse community where 'everyone brings their own experiences'.      

Jill has always been passionate about giving back to the local area, first as a nurse and now as the Chair of the St George and Sutherland Medical Research Foundation (SSMRF). The foundation started 15 years ago and generates funds for medical research conducted in the local hospitals. Before then, there was no dedicated medical research focus in the Shire.   

"A small group of doctors and professors got together and started the medical research foundation that supports local research for the local community. It helps to attract and keep young researchers in the St George and Sutherland Shire area," Jill says.   

The foundation calls for submissions for grant funding from researchers who then conduct their research in either St George or Sutherland hospitals. The research topics vary from gut health and cancer to dementia. However, Jill explains that they are all unique and every bit of research is important.    

"To me, the most exciting piece of research we are now involved in is at the Microbiome Research Centre (MRC). Around the world, there is a huge focus on Microbiome Research. We have been lucky enough to attract the world's leading expert as the director of the MRC, Professor Emad El-Omar, who has chosen to come and work in Australia, and with us as a board member at the SSMRF."  

'Living longer is no accident'

The MRC was established at St George Hospital in 2017 with a federal government grant. Its research focuses on the five key pillars that include cancer, women's and children's health, infection, inflammation and immunity, critical care and mental health and neuroscience.  

"It's the only centre in Australia that just studies the microbiome and human health. Other universities around Australia are conducting microbiome research, but the MRC as part of UNSW are the only stand-alone facility that just focuses on microbiome health."

“Living longer is no accident - Medical research changes lives through advances in treatments, vaccinations, surgical procedures, diagnostic testing and can provide the keys to healthy living, which I am passionate about," Jill says. 

The path to nursing

Becoming chair of SSMRF and ensuring we have world-class research in the local community was something Jill never thought she'd be doing when she left school in Year 10.  

"As a young woman growing up in the '70s and '80s, I was of the vintage that girls had three or four choices when they left school – nursing, teaching, cashier or secretary," she says.    

"It was the thinking back then 'why bother educating girls if we were going to get married and have babies anyway?'."  

Jill did choose one of the four options. She trained as a nurse at Sutherland Hospital where she obtained her qualifications as a Registered Nurse.  

Several years later, returning from the Harley Street Clinic in the UK, Jill found she had a knack for managing people and was soon moved up the career ladder to the hospital's Human Resources Manager. 

"The general manager at the time said I should 'get some university qualifications' but I thought I would never get into university as I did not have my Higher School Certificate," she says.  

"Still, the Sutherland Hospital GM wrote to the University of Wollongong, outlining what I had achieved and put a case together as to why I should be able to enter the University."  

In 1995 Jill graduated from UOW with a Graduate Diploma in Science (Health Policy and Management) from the School of Nursing.  

"If you go back to the 1990s, in order for women to be taken seriously in management and move up the ladder, you had to have formal qualifications, and I love a challenge, so I saw my time at university as part of fulfilling that opportunity to go further in senior management," she says.

Breaking barriers and glass ceilings 

Once Jill had that qualification, many more doors opened up. She went on to work as the General Manager - Operations for the Sydney Cardiology Group, the CEO of SIDS and KIDS (Red Nose) NSW, General Manager – Business for the Australian Cancer Research Foundation, as well as CEO and Public Officer for Clever Care NOW (Nurses on Wheels).  

In between her work commitments, she completed a company directors' course with the Australian Institute of Company Directors, a Certificate in Human Resources Management from Macquarie University, was awarded NSW Woman of the Year (Miranda) and served on the Sutherland Shire Council as both a councillor and Deputy Mayor.    

"University gave me the opportunity to break the barriers and move through that glass ceiling."  

Although, her career has been predominantly focussed in the health sector, Jill says if she hadn't chosen nursing she would have still found her ways to care for her community through her work.   

"I wanted a profession in which I could make a difference. However, I saw that the only way to do that was to be in a position to make those changes, and senior managers have that opportunity and are the decision makers."

"I had to go to university to effect change and push change in the area that I was passionate about. I like to be part of something that makes a difference in people's lives," she finishes.