Queensland nurse to lead the 20 million strong International Council of Nurses

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With 32 years of nursing experience, Dr Isabelle Skinner will soon represent more than 20 million nurses worldwide when she takes up her appointment as the chief executive officer of the International Council of Nurses (ICN).

Dr Skinner, currently a senior research fellow for James Cook University's Mount Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health, was selected as chief executive officer from among highly qualified candidates from around the world. Her expertise in leading innovation across health systems and high impact research to address complex health and social concerns were major factors in being selected, said the ICN. Dr Skinner was “passionate about improving access to specialist health care services for people in remote and rural communities around the world”, the ICN said.

The ICN is a federation of more than 130 national nursing associations, including the Australian College of Nursing. Founded in 1899 it strives to give nurses a voice in creating the best practices globally — something Dr Skinner said is not always an easy thing.

"[The ICN] is a mechanism for nurses to influence policy, and that's at a global level," Dr Skinner said. "Most nurses work for health departments so it's actually quite difficult for an individual nurse to have a strong voice on policy issues," she said.

"All of the council of national nursing organisations get together every couple of years and think about what we want to really focus on for the next two years. Then we'll be working with the World Health Organisation or the United Nations to try and address some of the issues that are really important to nurses."


“This is an exciting time for nurses to use our collective voice to lead in transforming our health systems and improving the health of our global community.”


Dr Skinner, became at nurse at age 17, completing her training in the Royal Brisbane Hospital, before her first job at Cloncurry Hospital. Since then she has worked in numerous roles. "I've worked as a remote area nurse. I've been and midwife in neonatal intensive care. I've been a public health nurse. I've been a nurse manager and DON. And I've been a nurse researcher and a teacher," she said.

She is a fellow of CRANAplus, Australia’s peak professional body for the remote and isolated health practitioners, and has won awards for her leadership and advocacy for remote health.

While her love for the profession has not wavered since she was a teenager, the practice of nursing has gone through major changes.

"When I first started, nurses were still trained in hospitals and so that was a very big change for nursing to move to the university sector," Dr Skinner said. “We've also moved to evidence-based practice. Certainly, when I started, you were told what to do by a nurse-in-charge. You just followed what they said."

Dr Skinner specialises in digital health, especially for reaching patients in remote areas, and has researched and evaluated telehealth services, designed mobile health and electronic health services.

While there is a widespread perception that some of the best career opportunities in healthcare come from metropolitan centres that are fitted with the latest technologies, Dr Skinner said she believed remote Australia was just an advantageous. "The job is based in Geneva in Switzerland, it's a long way from Mount Isa" she said. “If you really want something different you can do that from anywhere. It doesn't matter where you are. You can achieve, whatever it is you use seek."

“Nurses are the health systems’ biggest resource and are there in communities around the world preventing illness, monitoring, treating and caring for people across the lifespan,” she said. “This is an exciting time for nurses to use our collective voice to lead in transforming our health systems and improving the health of our global community.”

Dr Skinner will begin her role with the International Council of Nursing in Geneva in August.