Half a century’s knowledge at hand for leading nurse


Dunstan Hospital nurse Jill Hansen is embarking on a career milestone — 50 years and counting.

She talks to reporter Alexia Johnston about her time working in an industry where staff are hailed heroes and ‘‘essential worker’’ has become an additional job title following the global pandemic.

Jill Hansen knows how to juggle the challenges of a busy career.

Rightly so — the Alexandra nurse has clocked up 50 years in the healthcare industry, latterly including how to deal with an outbreak of infectious diseases, such as Covid-19.

Despite her half-century’s service, she is not ready to stop working.

Based at Dunstan Hospital, Mrs Hansen guided the team through infectious disease control.

Her work involved leading the way, preparing the hospital for a possible outbreak locally, and she was constantly following the moving feast of Ministry of Health guidelines.

‘‘It was long hours and even then in the weekends you often got phone calls and that was fine.’’

As she put it, her role was keeping not just patients, but also the wider community safe.

Mrs Hansen’s eventful career has spanned numerous pandemic threats, from Ebola to swine flu, through to Covid-19, which put the nation to the test.

She has a longstanding background as an infection control practitioner.

It has included holding the position of southern region regional co-ordinator for the National College of Infection Prevention and Control nurses and a 16-year background in infection control, having qualified in 2004.

It was another feather in her nursing cap in a career that started at Kew Hospital, in Invercargill, in 1971.

Back then she trained on the job —six weeks learning the basics.

She was then ‘‘set free’’ in the wards, where she continued her training.

Mrs Hansen said her earlier days were spent making beds and completing blocks of one to two weeks of classes over the course of three years, before sitting hospital and state final exams.

In 1974, after completing her training, Mrs Hansen stayed at Kew Hospital where she worked in the operating theatre before progressing to the intensive care unit and coronary care for another four to five years.

Proud moment . . . Jill Hansen celebrates at her graduation ceremony alongside her parents Iris and Bill Pennington. PHOTO: SUPPLIED/JILL HANSEN

She later worked in the surgical wards.

Mrs Hansen took time out to have children, but it was not long before she was back at work doing night duty.

In 1988, she started working at what was then called Parks Trust Hospital, now known as Southern Cross, in Invercargill.

In 2007, she moved to Alexandra withher husband Ray and secured a job at nearby Dunstan Hospital in Clyde.

‘‘I’ve been there ever since.’’

Mrs Hansen was involvedin infection prevention and control while working at Southern Cross, which was a component of her work that followed her.

‘‘When I moved up here I didn’t think I would be involved in anything [like that again],’’ she said.

‘‘I got tapped on the shoulder to see if I would be interested in applying in 2010.’’

She was accepted for the position, which she will step aside from in the coming days to focus on her clinical role.

Her work over the past year had not gone unnoticed.

‘‘People said I did well keeping them informed. For me I was just doing my job.’’

She also believed staff had coped well.

‘‘There was a lot involved in screening patients with Covidlike symptoms.’’

A range of other outbreaks had threatened the world during Mrs Hansen’s career.

‘‘I remember Sars and bird flu. The ministry [of Health] put out a pandemic plan and I was part of putting that plan together. Every year you go through your pandemic plan because it has to be refined.’’

Before Covid-19, Mrs Hansen had planned to pass on her role of infection prevention and control in February to focus on her clinical role.

‘‘I thought I’ll never have to deal with this again in my career. But, you never know.’’