Melbourne Business School News The importance of leadership in saving lives

The importance of leadership in saving lives

Dr Debra O’Brien has made a career out of responding to emergencies and saving lives.


The Assistant Director of Emergency Medicine at Melbourne’s Cabrini Hospital undertook her Senior Executive MBA (SEMBA) at Melbourne Business School to strengthen her ability to lead and manage a team to continue to deliver better health outcomes.

“Health is an area that requires people to step up and provide leadership, and hospital management is critical to empowering clinicians to make decisions that could dramatically improve or save a patient’s life and ensure critical funding is allocated effectively. Without support from senior management, better health outcomes cannot be delivered consistently,” she says.
“It’s increasingly important that clinicians be involved in healthcare leadership, but you need the right skills and frameworks to be an effective leader. That’s where my MBA has and continues to help me.”
Government figures show that Australia urgently needs better health managers and leaders to deal with rising healthcare costs associated with increases in our ageing population and prevalence of disease. Between 2009 and 2014, the number of emergency department presentations increased by 20.7 per cent, with 7.2 million visits in 2013-14, when Australia spent $154.6 billion on health.

These statistics can be seen in action at Debra’s workplace, where the demands keep mounting on the time and resources of Debra and her team at the Cabrini Hospital, which had around 24,000 emergency visits in 2015, or more than 65 a day.

An experienced clinician, Debra transitioned into hospital management at Perth’s Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, where she headed the emergency medicine department. After taking up her role at Cabrini, she became more conscious of the need to gain business skills to support, manage and lead her team, which faces life and death situations every day.

Debra is grateful for the opportunity to study her SEMBA, which came about when she won the Dean’s Women and Management Scholarship in 2015 thanks to funding from the annual Women and Management Dinner.
“I think being a doctor and receiving the award signals to a lot of women in healthcare that Melbourne Business School not only supports gender diversity but also diversity in industries,” she says.

Dean Zeger Degraeve is proud of the School’s long history of supporting women in management and our growing record of helping healthcare managers like Debra gain world-class business skills.

“Two graduates from our SEMBA class of 2007 are neurologist Christine Kilpatrick, now CEO of Melbourne’s Royal Children's Hospital, and John Fogarty, who heads Perth’s Southern Hospitals and St John of God Murdoch Hospital. And a 2015 SEMBA graduate, former GP John Woodall, is the General Manager of Health Services at the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

“Debra is another shining example of how developing first-class leadership skills can improve outcomes in seemingly non-business areas. She is making a difference in a sector where improved leadership performance is crucial to Australia’s health and continued economic success.”

Hear about more inspiring women like Debra by booking at ticket at the 2016 Women and Management Dinner via