Professor Patricia M. Davidson, Vice-Chancellor and President, University of Wollongong

Professor Patricia M. Davidson, PhD, MEd, RN, FAAN, has served as the Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Wollongong since May 2021, making history as the first female Vice-Chancellor and alumna to hold the position. With a distinguished career spanning teaching, research and leadership, she champions person-centred care and cardiovascular health outcomes for women and vulnerable populations. Recognised globally, she received the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) Distinguished Leader Award in 2021 and was honoured with the 2023 Nell J. Watts Lifetime Achievement in Nursing Award. An advocate for diversity, inclusion and Indigenous reconciliation, Professor Davidson continues to shape a brighter future for academia and healthcare.

Recently, in an exclusive interview with Higher Education Digest, Prof Davidson shared her professional trajectory, the secret mantra behind her success, future plans for University of Wollongong, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Prof Davidson, could you share your journey of becoming the Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Wollongong?

My journey to becoming the Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Wollongong (UOW) has been shaped by the belief in education as a transformative force for good and the power of leadership. After completing my nursing training at Wollongong Hospital and studying at the University of Wollongong, I embarked on a journey of learning, obtaining degrees in various fields and beginning multiple leadership roles, including as the Dean of the School of Medicine at Johns Hopkins in the US.

As the VC of the University of Wollongong, how do you balance the needs and expectations of students, faculty, staff and external stakeholders?

I am a big advocate for fostering an inclusive and collaborative environment where all voices are heard and valued. I believe you become a better leader when you become a better listener. To be responsive, empathetic leaders, we must continuously challenge our beliefs, biases, and assumptions. This helps cultivate humility, promoting a culture of inclusivity and respect. Transparency, communication and mutual respect are key principles that underpin my approach to governance and decision-making. By actively engaging with diverse stakeholders, understanding their perspectives and addressing their concerns, we can work together to create a supportive and thriving community within and beyond the university. At UOW, we introduced a Students as Trusted Partners framework to actively embed the voices of students in our decision-making.

How does your university approach diversity, equity, and inclusion, both within the student body and among faculty and staff?

At UOW, we recognise that we can only achieve our strategic objectives by attracting and retaining diverse talent. Our staff and students reflect the diversity of our communities, and our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion continues in research, education and community engagement. This commitment also transpires in all aspects of university life, from policy, culture and inclusive curriculum to the organisation of campus life. UOW’s diverse policies and practices ensure that we provide a fair workplace and campuses free from unlawful discrimination and harassment, with straightforward ways to report incidents and issues, both for staff and students. We also provide relevant support services in case of any misconduct.

Your work focuses on person-centred care delivery and improving cardiovascular health outcomes for women and at risk populations. Can you please explain these topics and their relevance in today’s healthcare landscape?

What I learned during my time as a nurse was the importance of the social determinants of health. Education, gender, status, and power all contribute to our health and wellbeing. And these topics, sadly, have not stopped being relevant despite huge advances in modern medicine.

Cardiovascular disease and stroke are among Australia’s biggest killers, and similar data is seen replicated globally. Studies show that people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, stroke and their modifiable risk factors. They’re also less likely to access health care or undertake preventative behaviours such as seeking help for their mental health, which also affects cardiovascular disease and stroke risk – one in six strokes is linked to mental illness.

My work in person-centred care delivery and cardiovascular health outcomes for women and at-risk populations reflects my dedication to addressing critical healthcare challenges. As an advocate for personalised and inclusive approaches to healthcare delivery, I know one thing: by prioritising person-centred care and focusing on individuals’ unique needs and experiences, we can improve health outcomes, enhance patient satisfaction and promote health equity. It is vital for everyone in academia, government and private sector to start addressing systemic barriers to healthcare access and advancing health equity on a global scale.

In 2003, I spearheaded the novel cardiac rehabilitation program for women and Aboriginal Torres Strait Islanders, which continues to operate today and is firmly committed to supporting First Nations people. It has also helped to build health research resources in Thailand, China, Indonesia, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey. These are always proud moments, but I know there’s more to be done.

You serve as counsel general of the International Council on Women’s Health Issues and on the Board of Health Care Services. Can you please tell us about your role?

The International Council on Women’s Health Issues (ICOWHI) is dedicated to promoting women’s health, health care and wellbeing worldwide through participation, empowerment, advocacy, education and research. The scientific world is unanimous that better outcomes in women’s health and wellbeing benefit not only individuals and their families but also the broader community. In other words, women’s health is global health.

I feel privileged to contribute to many organisations at the forefront of advancing health and healthcare policy through global health agendas, promoting evidence-based practices and advocating for policies prioritising the health and wellbeing of women and marginalised populations. My involvement allows me to leverage my expertise and networks to influence policy decisions, promote research and innovation, and empower communities to address pressing health challenges.

What are your views on leadership? How should university vice-chancellors and administrators ensure that their faculty members and students transform into world-class leaders?

Leadership is about value-led service, empowerment and collaboration. As Vice-Chancellor, I believe in fostering a culture of leadership that empowers faculty, staff and students to realise their full potential and make meaningful contributions to the university and society. Leadership is also a shared responsibility that requires humility, empathy and a commitment to collective goals. By nurturing a supportive and inclusive environment, providing opportunities for professional development and recognising and celebrating achievements, university leaders can inspire others to become world-class leaders who drive positive change and innovation.

More nurses are needed to provide leadership in today’s healthcare system. What do we need to do as a profession to improve that leadership role for nurses?

Nursing is about connecting with people and doing meaningful work. It is the combination of art and science that I love. Nurses are both smart and kind. As nursing and health leaders, we still have a lot of work to do to make the world a better, more inclusive place. That’s why the leadership role of nurses in today’s healthcare system is more critical than ever. Nurses play a central role in patient care, advocacy and healthcare delivery, and there is a growing need for nurse leaders to navigate complex healthcare challenges and drive innovation and improvement. To enhance the leadership role of nurses, we must invest in leadership development programs, mentorship initiatives and advocacy efforts that empower nurses to take on leadership roles at all levels of the healthcare system. By recognising and valuing the unique contributions of nurses, promoting professional growth and advancement opportunities, and advocating for policies that support nursing leadership, we can elevate the impact of nurses in shaping the future of healthcare.

You were the recipient of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) Distinguished Leader Award in 2021 for your exceptional contributions to the advancement of global health worldwide. Our readers would love to know the secret mantra behind your success.

Receiving the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) Distinguished Leader Award in 2021 was a humbling honour that recognised my contributions to advancing global health worldwide. CUGH is an organisation that aims to help universities become a transforming force in global health by providing education, research, service and advocacy. I don’t think there is a secret mantra behind my success. Still, a contributing factor is staying committed to my values, a passion for nursing and healthcare and a relentless pursuit of excellence. Thanks to my early nursing experiences, I’ve remained steady on course and committed to the values of kindness, empathy and social justice. At heart, I am still a nurse with a vision for a better world driven by the principles of equity and human rights.

Can you tell us about your vision for the university and how you plan to achieve it?

As we approach our 50th anniversary in 2025, UOW has cemented itself in the top one per cent of universities worldwide. We are an anchor institution, not only here in the Illawarra but in communities across New South Wales and the globe. My vision for the University of Wollongong is to build upon its legacy of excellence and innovation to become a global leader in education, research and community engagement. At UOW, we have grown to be a diverse and inclusive civic university, working to solve global challenges and promoting harmony and social cohesion. Our most tangible success is seen through our incredible graduates, our people and our valued partnerships, locally, regionally and internationally. I value our collaborative spirit as we work to solve society’s biggest questions – health inequalities, climate change challenges and access to education – and strive toward a better quality of life for future generations.

One piece of advice for medical aspirants?

My advice for all medical aspirants is to embrace the values of empathy, compassion, and lifelong learning. Medicine and healthcare is not just a profession but a calling—a commitment to serving others and improving health and wellbeing. As you embark on your journey in medicine and health, remember the importance of connecting with individuals on a human level, advocating for those in need and staying curious and open-minded about new advancements and challenges in healthcare. Cultivate resilience, humility and a strong sense of purpose, and never lose sight of the profound impact you can have on individuals and communities through your work in medicine.

Content Disclaimer

Related Articles