Q&A with Anne Brebner

1 October 2014

New Zealand College of Mental Health Nurses President Anne Brebner describes her career progression, what she loves most about being a nurse leader, and how she would improve the New Zealand health system.

Anne Brebner

Job Title: President, Te Ao Māramatanga, New Zealand College of Mental Health Nurses Inc.

Where and when did you train?
I trained at Kingseat Hospital, South Auckland as a very naïve and uncertain 17-year-old. I immediately loved the big spacious grounds and the opportunity to play sports every day as part of the physical health programme. We played mixed staff and service user teams and had a lot of laughs. I completed my hospital-based training in 1983, and like many others, I went on to do undergraduate and postgraduate education.

Other qualifications/professional roles?
Following on from postgraduate education, I moved into nurse specialist roles in child and adolescent mental health. I moved into primary mental health and leadership roles. I was an active participant in the ANZCMHN (as our college was known then) and remained an active board member until taking on the role of president this year.

When and/or why did you decide to become a nurse?
I have a photo of me playing dress ups in a white dress, a cardboard nurses’ cap and ‘dolls’ who were in beds like patients; I must have been eight or nine at the time. Despite this, it wasn’t a lifelong dream– more of a practical way to earn money and receive a qualification – but I soon realised this kind of nursing suited me perfectly.

What was your nursing career up to your current job?
My nursing has all been in mental health, and mostly in child and youth or leadership roles. All in the Auckland metro area, apart from my current employment in a national role.
I started my career ladder with nurse specialist roles and then became charge nurse at the Starship child and family unit. I then became first the primary mental health coordinator and then my current national position of Nurse Lead for Te Pou o Te Whakaaro Nui (the national mental health workforce development agency). Being recently elected president for Te Ao Māramatanga (New Zealand College of Mental Health Nurses) has been a real privilege and challenge.

So what is your current job all about?
The president role is voluntary; it involves leading and supporting a highly influential board to govern the New Zealand College of Mental Health Nurses, which has a strapline of ‘Partnership, Voice, and Excellence in Mental Health Nursing‘.


What do you love most about your current nursing leadership role?
Hearing about innovation in practice and seeing examples of contemporary care that exemplifies professional care. I enjoy being privy to hearing about so many stories of nurses demonstrating excellence in their practice.

What do you love least?
The reverse of the above – becoming involved if there are practice-based challenges for individuals and how that impacts on the profession.

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

  1. All nurses could be employed in the areas that they would like.
  2. That we could recruit and retain more Māori nurses, especially in mental health and addiction. Māori tangata whaiora (clients) are over-represented in all areas, and more Māori nurses would improve engagement andsupport for those needing support and their whānau.
  3. That remuneration be fairer and more equitable with our medical colleagues.

What do you think are the characteristics of a good leader? And are they intrinsic or can they be learnt?
I believe good leadership is both. An ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and to try to see the story from their side, helps enormously when in leadership roles. A strong sense of humour, highly developed professional integrity, and having great colleagues all make great people successful leaders.

What do you do to try and keep fit, healthy, happy and balanced?
Besides my family, who keep me grounded and real, I have an adorable border collie called Coco who is so grateful for a walk that it keeps me outdoors and active. I love the fresh air and the sound of native birds; our small lifestyle property keeps this accessible for me.

What is your favourite way to spend a Sunday?
Brunch at home, with the Sunday paper, followed by a beach walk including Coco.

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

The Listener: great selection of reading and crossword.

What are three of your favourite movies of all time?
Juno, The Lion King and Out of Africa.