Q&A with Denise Kivell

1 March 2014

Find out the three 'masters' that director of nursing Denise Kivell serves. And the chair of NENZ (Nurse Executives of New Zealand) globetrotting dream meal...

JOB TITLE: Director of Nursing, Counties Manukau District Health Board and Chair of NENZ (Nurse Executives of New Zealand)

Q Where and when did you train?

A Palmerston North Hospital class, Jan 1975-78.

Q Other qualifications/professional roles?

A Registered Sick Children’s Nurse at Great Ormond Street (GOS) 1986, MHSc University of Auckland 2004. These two qualifications shaped my career. Recently became the chair of Nurse Executives of New Zealand (NENZ)

Q When and/or why did you decide to become a nurse?

A I always wanted to be a nurse. I remember in my early school days rescuing and saving the “baddies’’ and the “goodies”. My mum was a nurse and I heard many stories of being a ward sister in charge of a children’s ward at Stratford during the polio epidemic.

Q What was your nursing career up to your current job?

A I set off travelling two years after graduation and worked as an agency nurse in London to supplement my travel bug. I returned to New Zealand and worked at the then-Hastings Memorial Hospital before heading off again and stopping off in London for two years to work and study at Great Ormond Street, which made me see what was possible in paediatric nursing. After a year back at Hastings, where I helped two children and their amazing families undertake the inaugural home TPN (total parenteral nutrition) management, I shifted up to Auckland to work in the Princess Mary paediatric intensive observation unit. A post for a new charge nurse manager role, overseeing the development of New Zealand’s first 24-hour paediatric observation unit and medical ward at Middlemore, was my next significant step. Five years later, I was involved in setting up the paediatric home care service, which is now in its 15th year. The road to a nurse practitioner closed at this stage as I chose to go on to clinical nurse director roles in paediatric, primary health and intermediary care before stepping up for the DHB director of nursing role in 2007. Recently, my role has been redefined with a focus on our hospital services.

Q So what is your current job all about?

A I am accountable for standards of nursing care and the strategic development of nursing. Six years ago, we had a 15 per cent vacancy rate. We also had too many complaints of poor care. Addressing such issues requires a team effort with clear vision and commitment to quality improvement. I serve three masters: firstly patients, whānau, and our community; followed by nursing; and thirdly my boss, our CEO.

Currently, I am leading one of our six organisational strategies – developing patient and whānau-centred care; which is so the right thing to do and makes the difference for patient, whānau, and staff experiences at all levels.

Q What do you love most about being a director of nursing?

A The opportunity to be a significant influence for nursing at the top table. Every day is different with such variety and diversity. To be able to work and network with inspiring people. I love seeing the result of investments in staff development.

Q What do you love least about being a DoN in 2014?

A The increasing bureaucracy, the challenging workload demands on frontline staff, and seeing and hearing about the impact of causing harm to our patients.

Q If there was a fairy godmother of nursing what three wishes would you ask to be granted for the New Zealand nursing workforce?


  • Recognition of the value and increase of advanced practice roles across the health system.
  • All nurses receiving coaching and mentoring as part of their leadership development.
  • And the spread of dedicated education units (DEUs) focused on providing a learning environment for the wider health team, with a strong focus on the nursing workforce pipeline.

Q What do you think are the characteristics of a good leader? And are they intrinsic or can they be learnt?

A Characteristics for me include values such as integrity, being authentic, caring about people. I rate developing and guiding others to maximise their leadership potential is an asset along with developing your own self-awareness. The emotional intelligence factor is also a key characteristic. In regards to whether it is intrinsic or learnt I say being able to learn is the deciding factor

Q What do you do to try and keep fit, healthy, happy and balanced?

A I’ve just returned from doing the three-day Tora coastal walk with friends, where we dined well, had a few bottles of great local wine, and mixed in laughter and fun as we experienced the stunning rural Wairarapa countryside. Having regular breaks, where there is a challenge or some uniqueness, energises me – this can include shopping in Wellington or doing the Rail Trail. My ‘balance’ acknowledges long hours – usually due to too much talking and not enough action – along with energising time off. Once away, the phone is off as I trust my team to effectively handle a range of issues.

Q While waiting in the supermarket checkout queue which magazine are you most likely to pick up to browse and why?

A Dreams are free – so I pick up a variety of mags that are timely – including travel mags with inspiring places to take you away. I also often check in what the ‘women’s mags’ are saying about the latest miracle cure … just in case it is evidenced-based.

Q What are three of your favourite movies of all time?

A Ghost with Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze; I love James Bond movies and yes, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.

Q What is your favourite meal?

A I love the association of food with their country of origin: so I would start with Champagne in Reims; then an entrée of Peking duck in Beijing; my main would be New Zealand roast lamb with all the trimmings (including a Central Otago pinot noir); my dessert would be crème brulee in a Paris street café; followed by port from Portugal and Belgian chocolate truffles.