Professor Eileen Savage, School of Nursing & Midwifery

Eileen Savage, Professor in Nursing

Eileen Savage, Professor in Nursing

College: Medicine & Health

School: Nursing & Midwifery

Research Interests: Chronic illness management with a special interest in children & adolescents

IRIS profile:

What first attracted you to your academic discipline?

I was drawn to nursing as a profession because I enjoyed working with people and believed a caring career could make a difference to people's lives.  I had experience of doing voluntary work in a nursing home during my school years and this certainly influenced my decision.  It was a 'toss-up' between nursing and social science but when making the decision during my final year in school, I was drawn to nursing more and felt it would offer me lots of opportunities and choices in the future.  As a profession, it is very diverse with opportunities to work with people at different stages of their lifespan and in different areas of healthcare.  During my clinical carer, I loved to teach and I loved to read and learn more about how practices could change to improve care.  My love of learning motivated me to pursue a Bachelor in Nursing Studies in UCD as a mature student.  It was the research modules that most excited me.  I was inspired and encouraged by the then Head of School of Nursing at UCD, Judith Chavasse, to continue my education and pursue a PhD.  This was great advice because then the landscape of nurse education was changing to becoming an academic discipline.

How were you drawn to your current research interests?

In my clinical career, I was most inspired by caring for children, adults and their families living with chronic illnesses.  I was always committed to better understanding their lay experiences, and how they managed to integrate their illnesses into their everyday lives.  This interest drew me to my current research interests.  I lead a programme of research on chronic disease management and the essence of this work addresses lay understandings of self-management, the emotional aspects of living with chronic illness and how these impact on physical health, and how can professional and lay knowledge work together in ways that improve health outcomes.

What professional achievements do you consider particularly rewarding?

Qualifying first as a general nurse and then as a children's nurse was very rewarding because it gave me the licence to work in an area that I loved.  Being conferred with a PhD has been one of the most exciting achievements in my career.  As a mature student, I had made many sacrifices to do this but it was worth it.  There are so many aspects of my work that I find rewarding including seeing my students graduate and progress their careers, seeing my work published in collaboration with colleagues, and seeing earlier researchers grow and develop.  I am very proud to have been awarded a Cochrane Fellow in 2009, and I am also proud to be the chair of two national working groups specific to the area of chronic disease (health behaviour change and self-management support).  I have been Head of School since 2012; seeing the continued growth and development of the School especially in research income, online learning, and internationalisation is particularly rewarding.

Have you had professional role models? What impact did they have on you?

I have had the privilege of working with many role models over the years, too many to mention.  I have been inspired by leaders in the nursing profession, who have worked arduously to develop nursing as an academic discipline.  I have had role models in the area of chronic illness research, especially those who have challenged the 'biomedical' model of disease management.  This thinking has influenced my research direction by examining how lay knowledge can contribute to better self-management of chronic illness, and in ways that recognise individuals as active agents in their own healthcare with capacity to work as partners with healthcare professionals in decision-making processes.  My role models have been from within and outside the discipline of nursing, and have been both female and male.

What aspects of your work do you find most rewarding?

There is very little about my work that I do not enjoy.  I love diversity and certainly my role as an academic is very varied.  I enjoy all aspects of teaching and research.  I get a particular 'buzz' out of writing for publication.  I love working in teams and find that I always have so much to learn from colleagues.  I love to see students progress.  In my capacity as Head of School, I find it very rewarding to see staff embrace opportunities and develop their capacity in teaching, research, and in leadership roles.

Any details you wish to share about how being female has impacted upon your career (positively or negatively)?

Nursing is a predominantly female profession and most academics in nursing are female.  I have never really thought about gender in terms of career progression for myself.  I have never experienced any negative impact on my career because of being female.  This also holds true for my experiences of working on various committees and boards both within UCC and externally.  So far, I am pleased to say my experiences have been positive and collegial, and have not been defined by gender.

Academic careers present specific challenges in achieving balance, whether between research, teaching and administration, or in work/life balance. What advice might you give a student/younger colleague/your 18-year old self?

Oh dear!  I have to jog the memory to recall my 18-year-old self.  My advice would be to stay focused and avoid trying to be all things to all people.  I do advise younger colleagues on completing their PhD to continue to work on this area so that they can grow a track record and this is important for successes in grant application and future promotions.  Get lean with how to organise oneself, especially with administration - even the simplest of things can save time and duplication, and will definitely contribute to balance.  Always remember that with experience, academic life gets easier.  Bring fun and a sense of humour to your work - great for striking a balance between competing tensions.  However, never become complacent about your potential and be open to new opportunities and new learning.  Follow your dreams!

Athena SWAN

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