As chief executive of the Limerick University Hospital group, Prof Colette Cowan has found herself in one of the most publicly scrutinised posts in the HSE system.
Having started out as a trained A&E nurse, she now heads the biggest employer organisation in the Mid-West with 3,500 personnel engaged across six hospitals.
A divorced mother of two daughters, one a student nurse and the other in secondary school, Prof Cowan trained at St Vincent’s in Dublin and, after working as an emergency department nurse, set about a career in management.
Prof Cowan said: “I know it is a high-profile position and, as chief executive, I am the accountable officer for all things to do with this group. There is no doubt about the challenges.
“The most important job as CEO is to interact with the staff in the frontline and not to sit in an office all day long. I go to the ED department about three times a week and meet and talk with people there, some of whom are undergoing very distressing moments.
“You do meet people who are very angry. You have to listen and take it on board and try and address it. I make it a point to go the ED department when it is busy and also meet patients.”
Prof Cowan said she is an optimist. “My job is not to despair; it is to create the vision that will make the changes that will make this an exempler group. I think it’s important that people realise that our people come in here to a good job all day, every day. Morale will be low if they think there is a negative perception all the time of our group.”
As a working mother, Prof Cowan said her role in the health service had also given her two children an appreciation around how mothers can work.
She said: “It’s a very, very busy job. But there hasn’t been a day that I haven’t come to work being happy. I want to make a difference and my two girls appreciate that, and it has grounded them in their own work ethic. I always tell them if you get an opportunity you take it. I always took an opportunity or position. I took it and worked hard at it. I always say it is there for the taking if they just put the effort into it.
“I am very close to my two daughters. They keep me grounded— as with a CEO position you can develop an ego or attempt to. I don’t and I make sure my family keep me grounded.
“So I am a person here to work with my staff and team and get the best outcome for patients. That’s it in simple terms for me.
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