An enviable nursing career for this wannabe spy

Jill Clendon once wanted to be a spy but instead she has had an extraordinary career in nursing

 Jill Clendon once wanted to be a spy but instead she has had an extraordinary career in nursing, here she is taking time out with her husband Gordon Mains at the Cape Egmont lighthouse after completing an 11-day bike journey.


In her 25-year nursing career, Wintec graduate Jill Clendon has worked in paediatrics in Alaska, co-authored three books and given nursing advice to Director General of Health and New Zealand’s COVID-19 hero, Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

A career in nursing wasn’t on her mind when she enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts – majoring in Political Science and Scandinavian Studies – at the University of Auckland.

“During my last year of high school (at Lynfield College in Auckland) I did a student exchange in Finland. It was the cold war era and I wanted to be a Russian spy…but there wasn’t much demand for that in New Zealand!” she laughs.

At university, she joined the ski club and spent four New Zealand summers working as a ski patroller in Lake Tahoe.

“While I was in the States, I worked at a summer camp for girls which was what first got me interested in nursing. Because of my previous job as a ski patroller, I had my first aid responder qualification which meant I used to cover for the nurse on her day off. I really enjoyed working with these girls and decided to move back to New Zealand to study nursing.”

That is how the wannabe spy turned ski patroller ended up in Hamilton studying a Diploma in Nursing (now a Bachelor of Nursing) at Wintec.

After graduating, she returned to the States, working as a paediatric nurse in Colorado and Alaska before moving back to New Zealand to work in paediatrics at Starship Hospital in Auckland.

While working as a public health nurse in the community, something Wintec nursing tutor Glennis Birks, said to Clendon kept playing on her mind.

“When I was studying at Wintec, one of my tutors – Glennis Birks – suggested I do my Masters. She planted a seed of career development and gave me the inspiration and motivation to further my studies and, as it turns out, my career.”

Clendon enrolled in a Master of Nursing at Massey University, giving birth to her first child on the last day of collecting data for her thesis.

After the new mother finished her thesis, she taught in Massey University’s postgraduate nursing programme for eight years. She had her second child and completed her PhD.

Keen mountain bikers, skiers and trampers, the family relocated to Nelson to embrace the outdoor lifestyle. 

Clendon worked for two years teaching on Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology’s Bachelor of Nursing programme and then as Nursing Policy Advisor and Researcher for the New Zealand Nurses Organisation.

But it was her next job at the Ministry of Health that has been the highlight of her career.

For two years, she commuted weekly from Nelson to Wellington to work as Chief Advisor – Nursing and Acting Chief Nursing Officer.

“I absolutely loved being Acting Chief Nursing Officer. My job was to give advice about all things nursing to the Ministry of Health and Director General of Health. I worked with various ministers and really felt like the work I was doing was making a difference.”

It was her dream job, but the commute wasn’t ideal so the pragmatic 50-year-old decided to look for a Nelson-based role and for the last two years has been Nelson Marlborough District Health Board’s Associate Director of Nursing and Operations Manager in Ambulatory Care.

“My current job is a really cool mix of leadership and operational management. As well as being responsible for 94 staff members, I manage the budget and provision of district nursing and public health nursing for the Nelson Marlborough area. This means I can direct resources to improve the level of care that we provide.”

Clearly passionate about nursing and healthcare, Clendon says her motivation comes from wanting to make a positive difference to people’s lives.

“This can be something small, like helping a child to feel safe when I vaccinate them, or it can be the big stuff, like achieving equity outcomes by directing resources to ensure that Māori are getting the care they are entitled to.”

Still involved in nurse education, Clendon is also an adjunct professor at Victoria University and is co-writing her fourth nursing textbook.

This year, 2020, is the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. This story is part of a series where nurses and midwives who have graduated from or worked with Wintec tell their stories. 

Find out more about studying nursing at Wintec.

Read more:

Wintec to deliver new nursing and health programmes in Thames and Ōtorohanga

Dreaming big enabled this nurse to open her own GP practice

Flying high as an ICU nurse


Year of the Nurse and the Midwife 2020