Emulating the great Florence Nightingale
It's a lofty goal, but if history and her own career path are any guide, she's in precisely the right place to succeed.
The Dean of the School of Nursing at the University of Adelaide has drawn inspiration and, to a large degree, research direction from her hero, the founder of modern nursing Florence Nightingale.
And by delving into the past Professor Kitson has discovered that nursing has a curious yet strong provenance with the founding fathers of South Australia and the University's founding Vice-Chancellor Augustus Short.
Providing the link is the Reform Club in London whose members back in the 1830s had the vision of settling South Australia based on the democratic principles of liberty, tolerance, rationalism and humanitarianism.
"Enter Alexis Soyer, the famous French chef of the story," says Professor Kitson. "He became the most celebrated chef in London working at the Reform Club in the 1840s - he was the Jamie Oliver of his day and revolutionised English attitudes to food.
"Then in 1856 he responded to a request from Florence Nightingale to help her provide nutritious food for the troops in her hospital in Scutari during the Crimean War - and he financed the whole exercise himself.
"History tells us a lot about Nightingale but not as much about the importance of good, nutritious, appetising food for the sick and needy."
It was only appropriate, therefore, that one of the first studies Professor Kitson pursued when arriving in Adelaide was ways to improve nutrition for older people in acute hospital settings as well as more effective systems to introduce new initiatives.
This latter focus, knowledge translation, has been an underpinning theme of her research over the past 20 years and is internationally recognised.
"Changing behaviours and routines of staff in a big system is far more difficult than people realise. It's why Nightingale is my hero and why stories such as the work she did with Soyer are inspirational."
Professor Kitson held various research positions at Green Templeton College at the University of Oxford and the Royal College of Nursing in the UK before taking on her current role at the School of Nursing in 2009.
The School was established in 1995 for post graduate training with an undergraduate program introduced 10 years later. This has quickly grown to an intake of 150 students a year.
Research is a focus and major strength. Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) has given Nursing a top five-point rating twice in the last two exercises, placing it ahead of just about every other nursing school in Australia and competing with the top international nursing schools in terms of impact and reputation.
Earlier this year Professor Kitson took on an additional role of joint Executive Director of Nursing with responsibility for driving innovation and reform within the Central Adelaide Local Health Network.
She has also been working hard over the past five years to establish a global research network focused around the importance of patient-centred care and leads the international Fundamentals of Care Research Program with partners in the US, Canada, UK and Sweden.
Professor Kitson believes her career goal to improve patient care will be assisted by the new University of Adelaide integrated clinical school with the plan to bring Medicine, Dentistry and Nursing together for the first time.
"There's been a lot of rhetoric around inter-professional learning in the past - and a lot of wreckage on the side of the road - but what we're doing here really is leading edge," she says.
"We will be creating a laboratory for our learners where they can test some of the boundaries, learn about each others' roles and responsibilities, and appreciate and respect each others' contributions.
"It will allow us to build on the very best elements of nursing. I think Florence Nightingale would be very proud to know that we have the best researchers and academics, and that we are growing critical thinkers and leaders with sound scientific training and also a moral sensibility, not just in nursing but in medicine and dentistry too."
The Founder of modern nursing
Professor Alison Kitson explains the legacy of Florence Nightingale.
When Florence Nightingale came back from the Crimea in 1858 she more or less became a recluse, staying in bed for most of the rest of her life.
She probably was suffering from some sort of post-traumatic stress which made her an invalid, yet she knew what her life's work had to be and that was to challenge the status quo.
She took on the British army, the hospital system, the government, the medical profession and consequently began to transform the whole healthcare system through setting up modern nursing.
Not only was she a first class statistician, she was also a social reformer, a hospital planner but, most importantly, someone who understood what good nursing was.
She knew it was a blend of empirical insight with compassion and consistent attention to detail.
She also believed that the most important transformative factor
in any health system was a well-educated nurse armed with statistical and empirical knowledge, attention to human needs with authority and leadership capability.
And it is exactly the same today.