The Future Health Leaders of Tomorrow

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The Future Health Leaders of Tomorrow

01-The Future Health Leaders of Tomorrow

The future health leaders of tomorrow

It is an exciting time being an early career health professional in Australia, says Daniel Mahony. Having been an active student and new graduate, he has already seen some substantial shifts within the health system since commencing his Bachelor of Physiotherapy in 2006. Daniel shares his thoughts as co-chair of Future Health Leaders.


The Future Health Leaders ConferenceI feel that I have only now grasped the complexity of the system we work within but know there is still much more work to do. Like many students and early career health professionals, I will no doubt see many more changes over the next 50+ years of my career and am excited about the opportunity to shape some of these changes.

The challenges facing the health system are steadily becoming a reality. Growing expenditure, utilisation of the health care system, an ageing population and an increase in co-morbidities and chronic disease are just a few. The health workforce continues to become more costly with a shift towards more specialisation expanded scope roles in metropolitan areas, and more generalist expanded scope roles in rural and remote settings. The expectations of consumers continue to rise, as does the age of our clients and health workforce. What will it take to ensure that all Australians, regardless of their background, culture, geography or socioeconomic status, have the best health in the world?


Leadership is crucial to ensure that Australia’s Health System, and health workforce, continues to work towards a healthy Australia. Leadership is not one position within an organisation but is exhibited, but not always acknowledged, by all staff. Leadership is needed throughout organisations and is not always a management top-down approach. As the Kings Fund Report describes, leadership development is needed from the “board to the ward”. Leadership opportunities need to be encouraged across all areas of health to shape the systems we have and drive innovation. We often overlook both junior and non-professional staff in providing these opportunities, neglecting that we need health leaders across all areas of the system. Cleaners, patient care assistants and kitchen staff play an important role in hospital safety, quality and consumer satisfaction, sometimes spending more time with patients than clinical staff. Leadership across all areas will help drive a health system that is equitable, effective and sustainable.

“Leadership opportunities need to be encouraged across all areas of health to shape the systems we have and drive innovation.”

A key trait of good health leadership is engaging others. The most effective managers are those who “walk the floor” and have their finger on the pulse of what is happening within the organisation. A simple way of working towards this is by taking a different route to your office every day to talk with those in your workplace you may not regularly see. Being a visible leader is important in conveying your vision as well as empowering others to work towards the same goal, rather than embarking on their own agenda for the organisation. In larger organisations that cover significant distances, managers, or people regarded as being in “leadership positions”, can still maintain a presence be it through personal newsletters about what is happening within the organisation, videos, or making an effort to physically meet staff. These small gestures can have a large impact on providing positive organisational leadership.

We know that a significant portion of our experienced health workforce is getting closer to retirement. This provides a great opportunity for leadership and mentoring across the generations to ensure we continue to learn from our past mistakes to ensure the health system continues to adapt to the changing needs of our communities. While there are some fantastic mentoring programs throughout the country, engaging and empowering the next generation of health leaders will ensure our future health system cares for its elderly, that being former health professionals and health policy makers getting closer to retirement! (no offense)


Although innovation is something all organisations seek, it is rarely truly welcomed and fostered in many organisations. With a multitude of challenges facing the health system we know that our current way of practice needs to transform and adapt to the changing environment we work in. With a new generation of health professionals, our Gen Ys, many older managers and health leaders feel confronted when asked the question “but why do we do it this way?” When provided with a safe environment and an opportunity to share their thoughts, many early career health professionals have innovative solutions to old problems.

In NSW, the CEO of the Western NSW Local Health District (LHD), Mr Scott McLachlan, invited Future Health Leaders members and employees of his LHD to set up an advisory council of early career health professionals to provide strategic and practical advice for his executive. This group has over the past 12 months provided input into the strategic direction of the Western NSW LHD and engaged its employees with opportunities in leadership and informal mentoring with more senior health staff. This is one example of how innovation can be sought within your existing staff.

In June last year, Future Health Leaders ran an Inspiring Ideas Forum on empowering innovation in health. This Melbourne event showcased a range of innovative programs from across Australia that are creating positive change in their communities. One example of an innovative program was from Realising Education & Access in Collaborative Health (REACH). This student-driven inter-professional health initiative, supported by Cohealth and The University of Melbourne, delivers multi-professional primary health care services for vulnerable members of the community in Melbourne. Supported by clinical educators, this innovative approach provides free health services for those who need it, and an opportunity for students to gain further clinical experience. The forum concluded with an information sharing workshop as to how attendees could set about turning their innovative ideas into a reality. When it comes to health workforce, there are many solutions to ensure your organisation has the skilled people it needs into the future. For example, if staff recruitment and retention is an issue for your organisation, have you sought to find out why? Have you engaged a consulting firm, had meetings with your executive and commissioned a report to provide you with the solution? Better still, have you asked your more junior staff why they chose to work for you, and what keeps them there? Have you asked them how they think the organisation can improve? While this approach seems like common sense, how many of us take the time to meet face to face with staff, and allow them to have input into organisational strategic plans, quality improvement and leadership?

Government Policy

Since the May Budget of 2014, there have been many policy announcements by the Federal Government to reduce expenditure on Medicare. Following the proposal of a $7 GP co-payment, then a $5 payment, then a $20 reduction for short medical appointments, it appears the government is struggling to convince the community that a reduction in expenditure is required. With the latest proposal facing certain doom in the Senate, the Government has once again stepped down from their policy proposal.

I don’t think anyone expects governments to create policy and address the financial position of the country by itself. They have access to a wide array of professional associations, lobbying groups, consultants, advisors and those who work within the system itself, who are usually more than happy to offer advice to the government of the day. The next generation of health professionals are, like any government, keen to create a sustainable future both in high quality health outcomes and sustainable economic management. The common theme I see across all the failed policy proposals and the consequent media in recent attempts to reduce health expenditure, is a general unawareness as to what the true cost of health care is amongst the community. One simple policy introduction to raise awareness of hospital inpatient costs in public hospitals is to issue a bill to all patients presenting to an emergency department or admitted to hospital outlining the total cost of their stay, with breakdowns for investigations, medications and surgery. The balance of the bill would be “$0- paid for by the Australian Tax Payer”. I think many would be surprised to see that their elective joint replacement cost five figures, that their visit to the emergency department cost $300 for something that could have been addressed by their local GP at a much cheaper rate. This would help to some extent change the culture of what is “free” and while still providing universal health care to all in our community, increase awareness of the challenges for governments to manage health care expenditure.

Collaboration across Professional Boarders

The Future Health Leaders Council represents 22 professions as well as a representative for rural and remote, Indigenous, International and two General Member positions. Council members represent their own views and experiences from the perspective of someone with a specific clinical discipline background and not necessarily the views of their professional association. Future Health Leaders focuses on commonalities across the professions and issues facing the health workforce as a whole. Its strength is in promoting information sharing across associations, leadership and challenging the next generation of health professionals to help shape the health system we will inherit in the near future. It is only through collaboration and a collective effort that the health system nationally can continue to provide universal health care into the future.

Collaboration across professions, consumers, governments, regions, countries and industries will help bring about the best health system of the future. Providing multi-professional, patient centred care, is important in achieving good health outcomes and the sharing of knowledge and information is a good start to building partnerships and capacity within the health system. Future Health Leaders has held a number of stakeholder meetings which have facilitated lasting networks across professions and focused next generation on solving the health workforce issues as a whole, rather than for one specific profession. Some common issues have been the transition from student to new graduate, support for new graduates, recruitment and retention, training pathways and youth mental health to name a few. Future Health Leaders intends to convene another stakeholder meeting in 2015 and is keen to see other professional associations collaborate in their lobbying to inturn provide clear and sensible policy solutions for our decision makers to the benefit of our fellow Australians.


The next generation of health professionals are passionate and excited about working in an industry where we get to help people and improve their lives. We must engage both student and early career health professionals in leadership, innovation, government policy and health reform, and promote a culture that supports collaboration across professional boundaries to ensure the health system of tomorrow is better than today. We need to utilise and foster these enthusiastic people as they will be our future health leaders of tomorrow.

“Providing multi-professional, patient centred care, is important in achieving good health outcomes and the sharing of knowledge and information is a good start to building partnerships and capacity within the health system.”