Louise Sparkes

Louise Sparkes

Louise Sparkes

  • Student type: Domestic
  • Degree type: Masters
  • Degree(s): Master of Nursing Practice

Master of Nursing Practice

With a career spanning over thirty years in public health - from the emergency department to teaching the next generation of nurses and finally leading a regional health service - Louise Sparkes is proof of the breadth of places a nursing degree can take you.

Louise’s nursing career started straight after secondary school when training was still hospital-based. She initially trained at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, followed by roles at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and completion of a conversion degree, recognising her practical training with a formal qualification. Leadership opportunities came early - such as shift supervision - and she was able to explore a range of nursing areas, including emergency.

A move to South Gippsland with her young family was the start of a lasting commitment to the region. Though the transition was initially a shock - moving from a busy metropolitan emergency department to a small rural hospital - Louise quickly saw the impact she could have in a regional setting.

“I’d come from Melbourne and had no idea how challenging it could be - and also what the opportunities were rurally. You had to be a master of everything because you are it. There were a few nights where I had to manage things I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near at a bigger emergency department. It’s pretty amazing that we can have such an impact on people during that time, and those people really remember you and the difference you make to your community and your work.”

During this time, Louise also started exploring her interest in education. She completed a Master of Nursing (Education) at Monash University and worked for the newly opened Gippsland Medical School (now Monash Rural Health Churchill), teaching first-year medical students how to perform basic clinical skills. She also began lecturing with the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Monash’s Berwick campus and was offered a scholarship to undertake a PhD exploring the impact of health literacy on rural populations with Monash’s School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine.

In a time before working from home was an accepted norm, Louise felt the struggle of combining research while teaching, working clinically and raising a family. She reflects that intermitting and then discontinuing her PhD was one of the hardest professional decisions she has had to make.

“I learnt so much from that experience about myself. I learnt skills that I still use today and I really learnt to believe in myself. I was a young nurse with young children from Gippsland standing up at the Alfred presenting my PhD research with all these professors - and I did that, and I was successful.”

While Louse returned to a clinical career at Bass Coast Health, she was soon promoted to Deputy Director of Nursing and then to the executive team.  During a secondment, working with executives from eleven health services across Gippsland, Louise realised her nursing background was an asset to management roles.

“It gave me a whole lot of new confidence. It taught me that maybe I could do what these CEOs are doing.”

In February 2023, Louise commenced her newest role as CEO at Gippsland Southern Health where she now leads over 450 people. Her focus is on ensuring her community has access to quality care and she sees a huge opportunity to innovate in this space. Louise reflects that her nursing background is vital to achieving this, giving her a unique ability to relate to her staff and understand the health service and the needs of her community.

“I still love being with patients, that’s where I get my energy from, but I think that you can make more of a difference in these leadership roles where you are focused on the transformation you can make for an organisation, to benefit communities and patients You can influence such a wide group of people and set the tone for how the health service sees their role.”

Reflecting on her career, Louise’s advice for nursing students is to try not to plan too far ahead and to nurture your self-belief - a mindset that has served her well for the last three decades. She knows just how many doors a nursing degree opens and the rewards are huge.

“If you work hard, have a vision, and are doing things for the right reasons, opportunities will come your way - but you’ve got to take the opportunities and not be too scared. There have been times when I’ve said yes to things and absolutely had no idea what I was doing - but you can work it out and look for people to help you. If you have the vision and put in the work, you will get the results.”

Learn more about the Master of Nursing Practice