Patricia "Trish" Davidson is not one to die wondering.
The University of Wollongong's incoming vice-chancellor and principal boldly chose to leave her many friends and families to relocate to the United States in 2013 to become Dean of the School of Nursing at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore.
She made the move after decades of distinguished work as a nurse clinician, researcher, educator and administrator here in Australia.
Now Professor Davidson has jumped at the chance to return home to take on an "opportunity of a lifetime" to become UOW's first female vice-chancellor.
"It will be nearly eight years by the time I come back in May," she told the Mercury.
"I'm very much looking forward to coming back home. I've become a grandmother and I think for everybody COVID has made people recognise the importance of family and friends and it has been very hard when there has not been much global mobility.
"The University of Wollongong is an opportunity of a lifetime to take the university to the next stage. Being there as a student in the 70s I've seen how far it has come and its huge potential.
"I'm really excited for that opportunity."
It is known now that when Professor Davidson takes up her new role in Wollongong in May 2021, she will also be the first UOW vice-chancellor who is also an alumna.
Her connection to Wollongong though stretches back to the late 1970s.
"I have been a registered nurse since 1980, graduating from Wollongong Hospital and serving as the student nurse representative for the Illawarra School of Nursing, one of the pilot projects in Australia introducing nursing to the academy," she said.
"I am an alumna of the UOW, receiving bachelor and masters degrees and in 2013 I received the initial UOW Distinguished Alumni Award. I received my PhD from the University of Newcastle (UON) and received the UON Distinguished Alumni Award in 2014."
When appointed at Johns Hopkins, Prof Davidson was a global leader in cardiac health for women and indigenous peoples, having spent 23 years as a frontline clinician and nurse manager before shifting her focus to research and teaching.
Just before her appointment, she served as professor and director of the Centre for Cardiovascular and Chronic Care at the University of Technology, Sydney. She was also professor of cardiovascular nursing research at St Vincent's Hospital.
But nursing was not the Canberra-born Professor Davidson's first choice.
She told Johns Hopkins University Gazette she left high school thinking she would pursue a career in political science or law.
"I've always been interested in human rights and social justice - roles of advocacy," she said. "I thought perhaps political journalism lay in my future."
Professor Davidson, however, could not embrace her studies and left college after just one year.
She got a job as a waitress, but two years in she knew she had to find a profession where she could grow and realise her potential.
The University of Wollongong is an opportunity of a lifetime to take the university to the next stage.Professor Patricia Davidson
One day, a co-worker mentioned she was going to quit work and become a nurse.
Without much thought, Prof Davidson decided to join her.
However, looking back she probably first had the idea to become a nurse when she was only 16, after losing her mother to ovarian cancer.
Her mother's illness exposed her to the work of nurses whom she carefully observed during time spent on visits to the hospital, and later when they cared for her mother at home.
Professor Davidson, who did most of her nursing in the 1980s, said she enjoyed the immediacy of the profession, and her inner nurturer and caregiver instinctively rose to the surface.
"One of the things people don't truly understand about nursing is the intensely analytical and empathic relationship that a good nurse has with a patient," she told the Gazette.
"It is the most privileged occupation in the world. I look back on my life, and you really share in people's deepest sadness and greatest joys.
"This intimacy of humanity gives nurses a unique perspective and place in the world."
Professor Davidson spent several years working in an ICU and then performed hospital outreach and specialty work, dealing mostly with patients with heart failure and multiple chronic conditions.
She would later join the Aboriginal Medical Service in western Sydney.
She called her time in the AMS an "amazing experience" and marvelled at the resilience of people whose health outcomes were abysmal compared to those of the rest of the population.
"I am strongly committed to diversity, equity and inclusion and particularly the health and well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders," Professor Davidson said.
"I worked for nearly a decade at the Aboriginal Medical Service at Mt Druitt and have been actively engaged in collaborative research to improve health outcomes with funding from the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and Australian Research Council (ARC)."
She is currently secretary-general of the Secretariat of the World Health Organisation's Collaborating Centres for Nursing and Midwifery, counsel general of the International Council on Women's Health Issues, and a board member of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health.
"I also serve on the Board on Health Care Services for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and the Children's National Research and Education Advisory Board in Washington DC," Professor Davidson said.
But her "greatest achievements" are her two children. "I've been very fortunate with work and home life."
'Trish has a real propensity for success'
Professor Dominique Parrish is not surprised her friend Patricia Davidson has been appointed the University of Wollongong's first female vice-chancellor.
The Pro Vice-Chancellor (Learning and Teaching) at Macquarie University always knew "Trish" was destined for the top.
Professor Parrish and Professor Davidson formed a strong friendship after their respective daughters became firm friends.
They soon spent many hours together watching their daughters play basketball at Beaton Park and throughout the Illawarra.
"You know Trish has this amazing propensity for success," Professor Parrish said. "Back then I wouldn't have been surprised because she was moving and shaking in the higher education sector back then, just going from strength to strength.
"I think the appointment at Johns Hopkins was a really significant appointment and it would have been so globally competitive."
Having worked at UOW previously, Professor Parrish was ecstatic the university was replacing Professor Paul Wellings with a talented female such as Professor Davidson.
"The time I left Wollongong there were a lot of senior females leaving Wollongong. I really think this is a fantastic appointment," she said.
"I was on the diversity committee which was looking at how we can assist women to be successful. Back then what was missing were women like Trish.
"The role models that we had as women were women who weren't married and didn't have children.
"Whereas many of us were married with children, had lives that we had to support outside of our job and we used to talk about the need for these really key female role models where they are doing a balancing act.
"Trish has and continues to balance having children and a life outside of work. She is the perfect female role model.
"I think it is just fantastic that Wollongong has been courageous enough to appoint a female, where they have had a history of males."
Joanne Joyce-McCoach, wife of former Illawarra Hawks coach Brendan Joyce, was also "ecstatic" Professor Davidson, is the new UOW boss.
"She was one of the people who marked my PhD. I was a lecturer at the University of Wollongong and a student," Mrs Joyce-McCoach said.
"She had already taken up the position at Johns Hopkins.
"Her role there puts her in the higher echelon of the nursing field and further than that. So having her input on that work was a real privilege for me."
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