Helping Harriet ‘close the gap’ in Vanuatu patient care

Friday, May 1, 2020
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Harriet Sam has always considered herself a leader. But since joining the Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) Leadership and Mentoring program in 2019, her concept of leadership has expanded.

Before she returns home to address a vital care gap in Vanuatu’s health system, Harriet shared her WLI experience and how she believes it will help her effect change.

Ensuring continuity of care for Vanuatuan hospital patients

Harriet is an experienced nurse, passionate about education, and has even set up a health care clinic in her community. Now, she wants to address the need for continuity of care for patients transitioning from hospitals to community clinics in Vanuatu.

In 2020, the Master of Health Services Management (University of Technology Sydney) student will return home to become the next principal of Vanuatu’s College of Nursing. In this role, she will flex her newly formed leadership skills and work towards her dreams and goals.

She said the WLI program “will put me in a better position to be a role model to empower girls and women, especially in Vanuatu; education is a path to achieving their dreams”.

Leadership is a ‘life-long learning journey’

Through the WLI program, Harriet says she learned “leadership is not about position, but influencing and inspiring others to develop and grow to greater heights in their careers and lives”.

Harriet believes leadership is “about having a clear vision and being able to clearly communicate this to your team, and supporting and working together with your team to achieve a common goal”.

“I have learned that I have not yet reached the place where I am supposed to be, knowing there is still work to do,” said Harriet.

“You need to be able to first lead yourself before leading others, and you need to lead by example and with integrity. It is a life-long learning journey.”

Harriet’s understanding of how culture, power and politics are “interwoven in our society and all act as barriers to initiating change” was also deepened through the program.

Intensive leadership training with fellow WLI scholars

The group of dynamic women who make up WLI's 2019 cohort first met in early February for an Outward Bound Australia course, near Namadgi Park, ACT. The week-long intensive course is designed to bring emerging leaders outside their comfort zones, test collective leadership skills, and forge networks.

"Meeting the 34 unique women who shared this whole WLI journey with me was truly amazing. Despite our differences, all women contributed and shared in our learning. I guess it is our Pacifica lifestyle and spirit; all women were full of energy and showed compassion, teamwork and positivity with such determination, which felt like a big celebration at the end."

"The camping experience tested my physical, mental and emotional strengths. From sleeping in an open space, which felt like the middle of a strange land and more so in an open tent … my mind was sending red alerts: danger; snakes! … to waking up at dawn and getting ready for the next move."

“In all of these, I learned teamwork, trust, respect and care for one another, communication, being responsible, conquering my fear with perseverance and resilience,” said Harriet.

[Pictured: Karen Kenny and Harriet Sam]

Meeting mentor and public health leader, Karen Kenny

Harriet partnered with mentor, Karen Kenny, an experienced public health leader who has worked on health-service delivery and health-system-strengthening initiatives in Australia and the Pacific.

"Meeting my mentor for the first time blew my mind as she showed more than I had expected. [Karen] showed kindness and empathy when she wanted to know more about my family, which was heart-warming. So establishing rapport that as nurses 'we do so well' gained my trust. I am super excited to have Karen as my mentor,” explained Harriet.

Building a sense of community and lasting connection

Only one month into the WLI program, Harriet noted the sense of community and linkages being built.

“The WLI program will give me a lasting connection between Australia and the Pacific in my workplace as a nurse. Now I am able to share and discuss issues collectively through this network and find possible solutions that are meaningful and depend on context."

“I now have a reliable and effective team of strong and influential women leaders who share a common vision to drive change for the betterment of our people,” said Harriet.


Read more about Harriet and her mentor, Karen, and so many other thriving WLI mentor partnerships: Women's Developmental Leadership Program (