Julene Wallace has enjoyed a global career, travelling and working in oncology, palliative and aged care. In 2004, she joined Icon Group as a Clinical Nurse before being promoted to Nurse Manager.
Meet Julene Wallace
Caring, around the world and back, as Nurse Manager at Icon Cancer Centre in South Brisbane
Here, she says she’s had the opportunity to grow as a leader, connect with her patients and team in a compassionate environment, and enjoy a balanced lifestyle that many nurses only dream about.
Intimidated by the idea of entrance exams, Julene had initially postponed her goal of becoming a nurse. But after marrying at 21, she finally decided to pursue her dream career. It was ‘now or never’.
“If I didn’t give it a go, I would always regret it. While I was working at Bega Valley Shire Council in Eden, I was volunteering in an aged care home to see if I’d like working in the care sector. And I absolutely loved it.”
Julene packed her bags and headed north to the big smoke to study at Sydney University. After graduating with a Bachelor of Applied Science majoring in Nursing, she continued working at the Royal North Shore Hospital, where she progressed from Graduate Nurse to Clinical Nurse, all the way to Case Manager for Gynaecology/Oncology.
When Julene and her partner divorced in 1996, she was looking for a lifestyle change – and as you’ll learn, Julene doesn’t do things by halves.
“I saw a pamphlet advertising a recruitment drive for nurses to go to Saudi Arabia. I was ready for something new.”
An international career
So Julene boarded a flight for Saudi Arabia. She spent the next two years living and working in Riyadh. It was the time of her life.
“I worked as a Registered Nurse at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre. We had twelve-hour shifts, and then had two or three days off – so we had lots of leisure time. The other nurses and I travelled a lot! We’d all go to the desert and have an Australian party, or after a storm, go hunting for desert roses; when lightning hits the sand, it develops quartz stones and diamonds.”
While adventuring in the Middle East, Julene met her current partner – an Irishman. She quickly realised her stint in Saudi Arabia was just the beginning of a global adventure. For the next five years, Julene worked as a nurse across the UK, Belfast and the Netherlands, before returning to Australia where the couple welcomed their baby, Maegan. In 2004, after another couple of years back in Ireland, they moved home for good.
Back in Australia, Julene worked with the Mater Private Hospital for a few months before joining us at Icon Group. For the next four years she held the position of Clinical Nurse, before stepping up as Nurse Manager in 2008 – a position she’s held ever since.
Finding a true mentor at Icon
Julene says her time at Icon has been characterised by significant personal and professional growth – which has been made possible through courses and informal mentorship.
“I’ve learned a lot since stepping into the Nurse Manager position. I’d managed a few people in the past, but never more than twenty at a time. So that was a huge learning curve. I’ve been fortunate to do management courses and have had the opportunity to present at several conferences. But what stands out to me is how much I’ve learned from our Site Manager, Angela Colrain.”
Julene says that Angela has been a breath of fresh air, and she clearly has a deep respect for her.
“Before Angela joined us three years ago, I wasn’t shining as much as I could as a nurse manager. She’s built rapport with everyone and helped me understand how I communicate as a leader. Angela has brought a new perspective. We know what she expects and she’s fair. If we have a twelve-hour day, she does the hard yards too. She recognises our work. I’ve never had someone guide me as a leader before; and Angela has become a mentor to me.”
In 2020, Julene was accepted into Icon Group’s annual program for emerging leaders: Founders Forum. She’s looking forward to the opportunities that lie ahead.
Choosing Icon - today and tomorrow
In addition to the professional development she’s experienced, Julene says she chooses to stay with Icon for three key reasons: the compassionate working environment, her connection with patients, and the work/life balance – something she describes as a rare commodity for nurses.
“It’s a personal environment with a fantastic group of people. The nurses have a strong relationship with one another – our kids have grown up together. If I opened the door right now, you’d see people dancing – and maybe even hear a band playing. Our daytime receptionist is loved by everyone. She’s known as ‘The Queen’ – she creates a wonderful ambiance.”
The working environment empowers team members to genuinely connect with patients and build life-long relationships, Julene shares.
“I love the patients. We’re by their side during a very unique time of their lives. They’re at their most vulnerable, so you give them a lot and get them through difficult times. I like talking with people when they just can’t sleep. It’s nice to be there for someone at three o’clock in the morning. You get to know them. Some people have treatment with us for many years – and they’ll come every week for the rest of their lives. You become part of their family. I was there when one of our patients had her first chemo treatment. And I held her hand when she passed away six years later. It means a lot to be there for someone in this way.”
Finally, Julene points to one simple, yet powerful point of difference when it comes to working at Icon: lifestyle.
“There’s nothing really like it. No other clinics I’ve come across offer the same Monday to Friday work schedule we have here. I’ve done enough night shifts in Saudi Arabia and Ireland – I lived by the night! Here, we have flex hours – so we could arrive at 7am or 9am. I’m grateful that my work fits in so well with my personal life.”