Nursing director's fire burns as strong as ever

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 November, 2011, 12:00am


Professional of the Year

Professor Agnes Tiwari enjoys nursing as much now as she did when she started her career 41 years ago. 'All these years on, nursing to me is just as exciting as it was before. Never a dull day, but very tiring days, yes. Challenging days, yes, but never dull,' says Tiwari, who became head of nursing at the University of Hong Kong in July.

Tiwari says her role is strategic and operational. Changes in nursing training mean she is closely involved with programme reform and preparation for a doubled group, while overseeing research. She heads a team of about 100 academic, administrative and research staff and a student body of 1,100.

Teaching nursing stretches beyond the walls of the university, says Tiwari, known for her research into the prevention of violence, especially as it affects women and children.

'We don't just teach for the sake of teaching or research for the sake of research. It's about how it may affect the community. We must be close enough to the people we serve. That is changing entirely the way we teach [the public] - it's not teaching any more, it's enabling.'

Tiwari's research focuses on psychological violence. While physical violence is typically classified by quantity - if someone hits you twice or more, it's counted as abuse - the yardstick for psychological violence is not easily quantifiable.

Controlling behaviour can take many forms, including economic control, emotional threats, an excessive level of monitoring or stalking, intimidation or threats to pets, for example.

After suffering for many years, women may respond by withdrawing into themselves, limiting their activities and curtailing responses or actions that they feel might encourage a violent response. Men may also be victims.

Tiwari's work involves research and intervention. Women may be referred, often from hospitals, but she also goes looking for them. She spends half a day a week at a shelter for battered women. There she finds women suffering from symptoms such as sleeplessness, forgetfulness, nightmares and desperation.

She explains that these symptoms are normal and are the body's way of defending itself against further attacks. 'It's one woman helping another woman, and I think that makes the difference,' she says.

These personal experiences become part of her research. 'The challenge is, if something is so ordinary, people don't recognise it as professional knowledge. I've got to write this up in a scientific way and publish it in academic journals, so that the scientific value of such ordinary knowledge will be recognised.'

It is part of a bigger issue that may affect other women. A propensity for being oriented towards people and details sometimes leads to a perception that women don't see the big picture. Believing that true power comes from within has helped Tiwari counter such perceptions.

Women who despair of being taken seriously should believe in themselves and push themselves out of their comfort zones, she says. 'Know yourself - who you are, your strengths and weaknesses, and what you believe in. It gives you belief in yourself.'

What the judges say

Agnes is a symbol of influence in the field of education and health services. She is not only a highly respected scholar, but she pioneered the research in her field as a founder of the first taught nursing doctoral programme at the University of Hong Kong. Her research and publications have awakened international attention on violence against women and her work has transformed the nursing programme in Hong Kong. As a professor she has educated nearly 1,400 nurses now working at 48 hospitals; she is a health adviser for various Hong Kong government committees; a pioneer for the first nurse-led health clinic for abused women; and has been chosen by the World Health Organisation to develop global guidelines to prevent violence against women. Lives for women in Hong Kong and worldwide have changed because of her passion, devotion and commitment to her profession.