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Making things happen

The dean of nursing tackles challenges with enthusiasm
By Jodeen Litwin

"It never crossed my mind," says Genevieve Gray.

"In fact I still remember the day that I found a Canadian voice on my answering machine." A smile lights up her face as Gray recalls the day she was asked to become the dean of nursing at the University of Alberta.

Retelling the story with an accent that evokes all sorts of Down Under imagery, Gray says her initial thought was that the search consultant was asking for her assistance in the recruiting process. But she soon realized she was being asked to fill the role.    I'd thought of packing up my home, once again, and moving across to the other side of the world caused her to resist at first, says Gray, who at the time was clean of the Faculty of Nursing and Health Studies at the University of Western Sydney, New South Wales, and deputy vice-chancellor (planning) at UWS.

After a bit, however, she began to take the idea seriously. But before signing on the dotted line, Gray, horn and raised in the warm climate of Australia, ventured to Edmonton in the still-below-freezing month of February. Gray says she picked that time specifically to experience a day in the life of an Edmonton winter. Finding the winter "very picturesque," Grey packed her bags.

She's now beginning to feel at home in her Clinical Sciences Building office, where the calming scent of chamomile from her morning tea lightly scents the room. "I try to manage my caffeine levels," says Gray. But "because you make such wonderful coffee here," it's not easy, she says.

Six months into her term as dean, Gray is pleased, "very pleased," that she made the trek to Edmonton to join the University. It was her second move to the northern hemisphere. Twenty years ago Gray left her Sydney home to go overseas to Manchester, England, to obtain her master's in nursing. At the time such a move wasn't particularly supported in Australia, she says. But that didn't stop her. "I could see then that what we were offering in Australia through our colleges of nursing for an RN wasn't going to be Sufficient to take the profession forward—or indeed myself forward, if I wanted to map out a career."

Gray says she has learned to recognize opportunities and to work at something until She makes things happen. Mind you, she says, this sometimes requires leaving a comfort zone. In her experience, though, leaving comfortable surroundings ran he "very enriching and rewarding, and often will open up greater opportunities for you than if you stay where you feel comfortable."

And any discomfort Gray feels, she quickly turns around. Instead of resisting circumstances, Gray asks herself, "How can I, or the faculty, benefit from the situation?" Sometimes there's been some resistance. Like the time she accepted the additional duty of deputy vice-chancellor (planning) at UWS while still working as dean for the nursing faculty. Gray says some colleagues questioned if she was doing the right thing by accepting the position. Gray knows what she did was right for both her and the faculty. "I gained so much experience and knowledge, and I am able to bring that experience back into nursing."

Gray says she was attracted to the nursing profession because she enjoys working with people and helping those who might be more vulnerable. However, she also wanted to be a teacher, and her career has allowed her to bring both those things together."

An educator and nurse for many years, Gray brings the University a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge. Her forward thinking—the same thinking that pushed her to further her education—makes Gray a natural strategic planner and trend forecaster. "I am more concerned with the future rather than the here and now," she says. But she quickly adds—as if she were mind-reading—that doesn't mean you can forget about the present. "While the here and now is important— you have to manage it effectively so that you can get to the future—I am always trying to look ahead."

According to Gray, her vision is to achieve tile goals of the profession. "It's always been about developing nurses, but also nursing." Currently site is working on the faculty's strategic plan and establishing benchmarks to monitor the faculty's achievements. In addition, she is also working on strengthening alumni relations and building the faculty's graduate program.

Despite a to-do list that runs several pages long, Gray seems to be taking it all in stride, showing no visible signs of panic. She says she is fortunate to be working with a good team. And she is looking forward to the future.

Published Autumn 2000.

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