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From a brush with death, a thirst for life

Written by Michael Cummings
on June 18, 2018

To understand why Joanne Wang has been so successful in her career you need to know something personal about her: she almost died.

When the clinical manager at Weary Dunlop retirement village was a teenager in her native China, she was struck down by a life-threatening illness.

She recovered and came to Australia to study soon after, but her brush with death has had a profound impact on who she is. Most of all, it has had a profound impact on how she goes about her work.     

“I think I always had a belief that when I recovered from my illness before I came to Australia that life is very short,” she says. “If I want to do something, I want to do my very best because you never know what is going to happen tomorrow.

“I think my approach to life is totally changed after [my illness]. I just can’t believe today that I’m still here talking to you when I think how ill I was then.

“So, it makes me appreciate life and time a bit more.”


It has also given her a greater appreciation of what it’s like being on the other side of the nurse-patient relationship. 

When you understand how fragile life can be, as Joanne does, it can't help but colour your philosophy of care for residents.  

“That’s why I keep saying to the staff… never just walk out of their room without asking them, ‘What else can I do for you?’”

That dedication to her work and her empathy for people needing care has been central to her career success.

At just 30 years old Joanne has been the clinical manager at Weary Dunlop for almost three years, where she oversees more than 50 staff and is responsible for 82 residents.

But she’s not just managing Weary Dunlop’s clinical services, she’s leading them.

Joanne was nominated as one of just three finalists in the ‘Leader of the Year’ category at this year’s Ryman Awards.

“I don’t know how they chose me but, anyway, I’m thankful for the trust they all have in me. It is everyone’s effort – I wouldn’t be what I’m doing today, and we wouldn’t be able to achieve the [recent] accreditation, without any of them on the floor.”

That the nomination for the leadership award came from her staff means the most to Joanne because, she says, it reassures her that the team is behind her in her pursuit of excellence.

But high-functioning teams don’t just happen by accident. Asked how she built that culture among her staff, her response makes clear that her empathetic outlook extends beyond a sense of shared experience with patients. 

“You trust them, and you put yourself in their role. I was a [personal care assistant] before I was a nurse, and I was nurse on the floor before I was a nurse unit manager, and I was a nurse unit manager before I became clinical manager. So, I know it can be hard.

“And I have trust in them. I always have trust that everyone is always genuine and kind.”

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