TDHS CEO Rebecca Van Wollingen web

Nursing – the foundation block of Bek’s management career

Celebrating ‘2020 the Year of the Nurse and Midwife’ throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been tricky but also a perfect way to showcase nurses as frontline heroes, according to Timboon and District Healthcare Service chief executive officer Rebecca Van Wollingen.

This year, we have shared a nursing story every month to celebrate 2020 the Year of the Nurse and Midwife.

In this 12th and final instalment, Ms Van Wollingen (Bek) shares her own story of a young girl who wanted to help people and eventually chose nursing as the pathway and foundation on which she has built her career in management.

“I wasn’t a little girl who wanted to be a nurse – I didn’t have that ideology at all. I knew I wanted to help people, but had no idea how. Nursing became my pathway,” she said.

“Nursing is a very good skill set. It will help you in life, it will help your family, you can travel the world, you can do all kinds of different jobs and there are tonnes of opportunities.

“The focus on nurses this year has been great. People are starting see the value in working in a helping-profession and the community has, more than ever, acknowledged the importance of nurses to humanity.”

Ms Van Wollingen trained as a nurse in Perth before moving to Melbourne to complete her graduate year at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne. She said an experience in Africa years earlier as a volunteer was the stimulant that led her towards nursing.

“I lived in South Kenya for three months as a volunteer working in an orphanage. In the town I lived in, one in every three people had HIV/AIDS,” she said.

“I really wanted a job where I could help people and going to Kenya made me realise that I needed practical skills because, although I was doing a good thing, I realised my lack of skills limited my ability to help.

“Looking back, I did enjoy nursing on the ward. There is something about someone coming in needing help and being able to give them that help, but I think I was always drawn to systemic change and roles that could help populations of people.

“I realised, early on, the power of management and leadership and decision making and how embedding long-term principles could better people’s lives and improve patient outcomes.”

While working at The Alfred, Ms Van Wollingen continued her education – completing her Masters in Public Health and Communicable Diseases.

She then worked for the Royal District Nursing Service (RDNS) – initially in a call centre assessing and triaging patients over the phone.

“At first I didn’t think that was much of a nursing role, but I think that role was actually when I started to understand that when you’re on the floor you are one person delivering a service, but that behind that there’s a whole system that makes it all possible,” she said.

Ms Van Wollingen moved to the United States and worked for the government in California in communicable disease control, before returning to work for the Victorian Government in the same area of expertise.

“My husband and I decided to make a tree change and we moved to Colac first. I was still working shifts for RDNS but then a management job came up at Camperdown and Lismore Community Health and I successfully applied,” she said.

“It really showed me that I could work in management and that I could drive public health outcomes. I probably doubted myself until then, but that showed me I could do it.

“From there I became the Director of Clinical Services at Beaufort and Skipton Health Service for a year but by then we were living in Timboon so when the same role came up here at Timboon I went for it.

“Within a few weeks of starting as a director here at Timboon, I stepped up as the acting CEO to fill the vacancy and then, after deputising in that role for several months, I applied for the job as CEO and here we are today.

“I feel nursing is a fantastic career with lots of opportunities to grow, develop and pursue your interests. I would like to thank all our wonderful nurses and recognise their consistent and continued contribution to the health service and positive patient outcomes.”

This story is our 12th and final monthly instalment to help mark 2020 the Year of the Nurse and Midwife.  The whole series can be found here

Nurses make up a significant proportion of our workforce and TDHS would not be able to run without their dedication, skill and compassionate care. We are very excited to be celebrating their valuable contributions throughout the year. We hope you join us in recognising and thanking our nurses.    

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