It was a pleasure to interview Natalie Smith, a nurse of more than 30 years. Natalie has written for us about a range of topics. Check out “my tips after more than 30 years of nursing” and “Unique Overseas Nursing from Saudi Arabia, England to Vanuatu in the 90’s“.


What makes a strong nursing leader?

Sometimes we are confronted with challenging workplaces. Unfortunately, our energy levels can be zapped, and it can be hard to get out of bed and face the same issues day in and day out. For those that have had opportunities to be supervisors and people managers, you will know it is not easy managing challenging behaviours.

The manager is often the ‘meat in the sandwich’. They are required to negotiate with their supervisors, implement processes they may not be completely comfortable with and also manage their unhappy subordinates. At times it can be all-consuming for the manager. This would be a good time for you to think about ‘walking in their shoes’.

What do you think they are dealing with every day? If you were the manager, how would you handle the predicament that you are now faced with? How would you like your staff to approach you if they had a problem? Are you approachable?

It is important to remember that not all managers are leaders.

Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author, discusses the importance of EQ in leadership (Goleman, 2019). The elements of EQ are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skill. Goleman suggests that leaders are both born and made; but not everyone has EQ. EQ often comes with age, but this is not enough. The development of EQ requires learning through motivation, coaching and feedback. Great leaders know their limitations, accept constructive criticism and manage impulses. Leaders are motivated to achieve, have clear communication, engage with staff and set achievable goals for themselves and their staff (Goleman, 2019).

It is also very challenging having to work in an environment with poor leadership. So what should you do if you are faced with working under substandard leadership? Using clear communication is crucial to identifying the issues you face. Take time out to journal or talk through the concerns with a mentor.

“Think about what you would do to resolve the situation. A solutions-based approach will be more likely to score positive points with your supervisor.

Practice talking out loud as though you are presenting the problem to your manager and then make an appointment to discuss the problem and suggested solutions.”

Unfortunately there will still be some intimidating individuals that irrespective of your preparation will still cause your brain to have an amygdala hijack. Will your brain fight or will it fly off with all of your logical responses, leaving you abandoned in the face of adversity? Goleman (2019) suggests that by using our EQ and techniques to suppress our stress response we can avoid being hijacked. Understanding your triggers to the adrenaline surge can assist in managing these emotions. If you can predict an incidence, then being prepared will set you up for success.

Have you tried the Power Pose?

American Psychologist, Amy Cuddy (2012) discusses the physiological and psychological effects of body language.

Powerful, assertive and confident leaders are more likely to have higher testosterone and lower cortisol levels. What if we feel like imposters? Can our body change our mind? Can you fake it ‘til you become it? Cuddy suggests that we can. Take control of your commandeered brain, and reprogram it to create the new you (Cuddy, 2012).

So, if you have a problem at work that needs a resolution, consider taking a moment in a quiet space – just you and your brain. Using the Experience Cube model, write down what you observed, what you perceive as the issue, how it made you feel and overall what you want to change (Bushe, 2010). Consider having a variety of potential solutions to the problem to share. Then, prepare your mind for the discussion with your supervisor.

Using deep breathing, meditation, positive self-affirmation and the Power Pose before engaging can lead to an uncluttered brain, decreasing your cortisol levels and therefore your stress. Hopefully, the flight mode will be reversed and you can stand strong in your convictions, steering you to clearer communication and a better outcome.

Nursing Education

What lead you to move from clinical to nursing education?

In reality, I am still working between clinical nursing and nursing education, and believe that great educators are still connected to clinical nursing in some way. However, if I look at the reasons I started to further my knowledge and skill initially in clinical teaching, I would say that I was inspired by great instructors and driven by poor trainers.

There is a famous saying that deterred my move initially into education: ‘those that can, do; those that can’t teach’.

If I switched to teaching, then maybe I was one of those clinicians that were incapable of being a nurse. So I delayed and continued to explore my strengths as a Critical Care nurse, undertaking postgraduate studies in critical care to reaffirm my capabilities.

It probably took a couple of years working through this negative self-talk before I took the leap; initially starting with a post graduate certificate in clinical teaching, followed by a role in the development of ICU nurses. After some time developing knowledge, skills and confidence, I could then explore the possibility of education on a larger scale, so I pursued a Masters course, with education, leadership and management as the foundations for my learning.

This led me to a role in organisational staff development and the university sector. Overall, my passion for nursing and nursing education is spurred on by the importance of creating a strong and professional workforce in the future. I also want to know that there will be great nurses available when my family or I need them most.

What does your Educator role in organisational staff development and the university sector involve?

Working as an Educator in Organisational Staff Development and the university sector involves knowledge and skill in educational theories and practices, and includes developing curriculum for courses specific to the portfolios that you are assigned. With the modernisation of education delivery, technical skill in online systems and teaching modes is essential in course management and development, highlighting the importance of ongoing training and research to stay abreast of advances in technology.

In Organisational Staff Development, the need to move large quantities of staff through mandatory training and skill development requires skills in data management to ensure risk strategies and compliance are achieved. Skills in spread sheets and Learning Management Systems are crucial. Knowledge in governance is also important, as some practices are governed by legislation, and some practices are managed locally through risk strategies, and policy and procedures.

In my role as an organisational educator, there was an expectation to be involved in policy development and stakeholder groups to ensure educational input into these processes. As such, leadership skills are essential as EQ and communication are required to negotiate improvements and change in a dynamic work environment.

Sessional Academic

As a Sessional Academic, depending on my semester workload, I can be involved in the education of undergraduate or postgraduate nursing students. Teaching seminars, simulations and workshops can vary in duration, but are usually in blocks of 2 hours. Several sessions may be scheduled for the day or throughout the week. Assessment marking is also required and may include grading written assignments or Objective Structured Clinical Assessments (OSCAs).

Preparation for all teaching and assessment is paramount. This involves lots of pre-reading and research to remain current in best practice. Marking assessments involves a quiet working space, excellent language and feedback skills, knowledge in resourcing, referencing and academic integrity, and most importantly patience.

How do you find the right balance nowadays between working as a casual Critical Care nurse and a Sessional Academic?

I love that I can work in both clinical nursing and education; they complement each other. But to do this I decided to work as a casual RN as shift work is no longer conducive in my life. My sleeping patterns are impacted by physiological factors, so knowing my limitations has actually been an important step to a healthier lifestyle. I have also had to learn to say ‘no’ to some aspects of each role. Every week I am offered more than enough clinical shifts, with several offers of overtime to add to the equation.

However as a Sessional Academic, the teaching workload is not just face to face time with students. It also includes preparation for tutorials and practice sessions, and marking assignments. Managing my time is crucial to guarantee my best performance. If I am overworked, I am stressed; therefore planning my work week is critical to enable me to be the best I can be.


  • Bushe, G. (2010). Clear Leadership: Sustaining Real Collaboration and Partnership at Work (Revised ed.). Boston: Davies-Black.
  • Cuddy, A. (2012). Your body language may shape who you are. TED.
  • Goleman, D. (2019). The Emotionally Intelligent Leader. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Publishing.