Three years on … an Australian researcher’s reflections on the impact of attending the 2015 Practice Development School

Anne Williams, Prof Health Research, Murdoch Uni; Research Consultant, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital

In April 2015, I attended the IPDC Foundation Practice Development School hosted by FoNS at Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex. Travelling from Perth Western Australia, the school was a time of intense learning for me. It also increased my self-awareness and connection to nursing. This experience has led me in some wonderful new directions and really enriched my work as a nurse researcher.

Anne Williams and Jo Odell at Herstmonceux Castle, April 2015

Reflecting back now over the past three years, there have been numerous times when what I learnt at the school has influenced the things that I have done. The school unlocked some of my inhibitions and extended my confidence to use creative arts and humor at work. The results of this have been quite infectious! Let me give you a few examples …

Research Week 2015

Each year Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital holds a ‘Research Week’ to highlight health research through activities and presentations. One of the activities in October 2015 was a fun multidisciplinary research debate on the topic: ‘Are Department of Health funds better spent on research or education?’ With only 24 hours’ notice, I was asked to be the nursing representative on the team defending the use of research funds. Having minimal experience in debating, it really was quite a challenge! However, feeling more confident after the Practice Development School, I decided to give it a go. Using ideas from the movie ‘Back to the Future’, I reflected back on how we nursed patients 30 years ago compared to today and I helped my team to victory, cheered on by the strong nursing contingent in the audience!

Nursing Extravaganza

To celebrate all the great things that we do in nursing, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital has for many years organised an annual fun event called ‘Nursing Extravaganza’. It is always held at the end of the year and nurses throughout the hospital are asked to showcase the innovative work that they do using displays. Ward nurses visit the Nursing Extravaganza and there are free ice creams. In 2015 the Centre for Nursing Research, where I work, decided to go with the mad professor theme. We all dressed up as Einstein look-a-likes and each of us had a nickname based on our area of research interest/expertise. I was named ‘Wilhelmina Wellbeing’ and I dressed up in a crazy purple wig, wacky glasses and white laboratory coat.

Anne Williams and Dr Susan Slatyer at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital’s Nursing Extravaganza December 2015 

Wellbeing Activities

One of the research projects we have been working on is all about improving the wellbeing of cancer nurses. Following the school, I found myself more open to using innovative techniques to promote wellbeing. ‘Laughter Yoga’ is a relaxation method that particularly captured my attention, and so to find out more I enrolled in a course to become a Laughter Yoga Leader. Laughter Yoga is a group activity designed to reduce stress. Fake laughter occurs alongside various playful activities, handclapping and breathing exercises. It is bizarre and ridiculous, but it’s fun and it works! We recently included some Laughter Yoga in a wellbeing workshop for cancer nurses and it was extremely well received!

Another wellbeing activity initiated for the nursing academics at my university was a ‘bushwalk’ (a walk in the park), followed by a picnic and a group activity in which we all made ourselves hippy-type headbands in the colours from the flag of the Aboriginal people of Australia. The use of creative arts in this instance, really enriched the experience and lifted the mood of those who attended.

Anne Williams, Emily Allen and Anne Matthews following a wellbeing bushwalk December 2015

More Reflections

In my previous blog about the Practice Development School (12th May 2015), I reflected on the importance of having the confidence to speak up and to contribute to positive change in the workplace. I have felt more self-assured since the school and have made a conscious effort to speak up more about things that matter. Part of my increased confidence I think stems from working in environments where I feel supported and connected to caring colleagues. Attending the school highlighted that we can all contribute positively to the culture of the place where we work, and creative arts and humour can be part of this. I commend the ongoing work of FoNS in this area. I highly recommend the Practice Development School held in the beautiful environment of Herstmonceux Castle and hope that many more nurses get the opportunity to experience this potentially life-changing experience.


I would like to acknowledge the support of my wonderful colleagues who appear in the photographs accompanying this blog: Emily Allen (Murdoch University), Anne Matthews (Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital), and Dr Susan Slatyer (Curtin University & Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital).

I would also like to acknowledge the inspiring Jo Odell, Practice Development Facilitator at FoNS, who I studied with at London South Bank University and reconnected with at the 2015 school after 30 years.

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