Connected Conversations | Frank Donnelly

After over 20 years at the University of Adelaide, Associate Professor Frank Donnelly stepped into the Dean of Nursing role amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Between managing the Adelaide Nursing School and continuing his own research, you might find Frank engrossed in the latest sci-fi book or training for his bucket list goal of running a marathon in every state and territory of Australia.

Image of Frank standing in front of the AHMS building

Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m Frank and I’m the Dean and Head of School at the Adelaide Nursing School. I first took on this role in an interim capacity unexpectedly late in 2019 and, despite the challenges provided by COVID-19, I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity for closer connection to all staff across the school. My job encompasses learning, teaching, research, administration, and leadership, so I am never bored! 

What was your first area of study?

After my Bachelor of Nursing studies, I worked at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, starting in the neurosurgical ward and then moving to the intensive care unit where I spent the bulk of my clinical career. I learned a lot there about many things and some of the most wonderful people I have ever met continue to work in that unit, providing their skills and knowledge to the critically ill. They are a special group of inspiring people.  

What do you love most about working at the University of Adelaide?

The University of Adelaide has been my workplace for almost 21 years. In that time, I have had and taken every opportunity I could and this has been the key to staying at the University for so long. With each new opportunity comes a chance to renew and refresh so, while I have been at one institution for a long time, I have appreciated the variety. The other, and perhaps more important, reason is that I’ve had the opportunity to work with students from the very beginning of their careers and watch as they become outstanding registered nurses. 

Why would you encourage some to pursue a career in health?

Health, in my opinion, is the most challenging and yet most rewarding of all disciplines. At almost every encounter, you can make a difference to someone else and their quality of life and, given that no two people are the same, every day has the potential to be different. 

What are you working on now?

Stemming from my education focus, my research mainly revolves around understanding how to improve learning. From a clinical perspective, however, I think the future of effective and applied heath care will be truly interdisciplinary in nature. The complexity of illness and the relative expertise of each profession requires a far more person-oriented approach than the one that currently exists. Breaking down silos will not happen overnight but collective and collaborative research is the way forward. 

What do you do in your spare time?

I am a science fiction fan so my spare time is usually taken up with either books or movies. To break that up, I am also a part-time runner and have a bucket list goal of completing a marathon in each state and territory of Australia – two down, five to go!

Name three things you won’t forget about the past year…

The lockdown made me realise how much I appreciate baristas, how lucky I am to work with innovative and clever staff, and how important it is to stay as healthy as possible. 

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