Celebrating our female leaders - Shirley Bowen

With two speciality Fellowships in sexual health medicine and infectious diseases, a Master of Medicine and decades of experience across the public, private, research and educational facets of the health sector, St John of God Subiaco Hospital CEO Prof Shirley Bowen reflects on her career on International Women’s Day. 

8 Mar 2021

St John of God Subiaco Hospital CEO Shirley Bowen

As the CEO of St John of God Health Care’s flagship hospital, Prof Bowen continues a 123 year tradition of hospital leadership that she describes as her dream job.

“As a doctor, becoming a leader in the health industry changes your perspective, it means you are able to improve the public’s health, rather than the one person that you might be treating on a particular day. 

“I have always wanted to make a greater contribution and the best way I saw to do that was by deliberately gaining experience across all areas of the health system and identifying how public health could be improved across the sector. 

“I have never been afraid to try new things and I always saw opportunity which is how I accepted my first significant leadership position as the Chief Medical Officer in the ACT.

“I am passionate about patient care and as CEO at St John of God Subiaco Hospital it is important for me to always consider each of our patients and provide authentic leadership to ensure our care is patient centred.” 

Over the past year Prof Bowen’s background, training and expertise in infectious diseases has been an asset, not only for her hospital but for the greater organisation.

“I started my career in New South Wales at the height of the AIDS epidemic, did research in HIV and sexually transmitted infection in Africa, worked on TB outbreaks and worked during the original SARS outbreak. 

“When COVID-19 arrived in Western Australia and the first lockdown commenced it was a situation I was comfortable in because of my background as an Infectious Disease Specialist and also as a previous Director of Communicable Diseases in the ACT and in Western Australia so playing a lead role in outbreak control was familiar to me. 

“At St John of God Subiaco Hospital I was able to lead from the beginning, particularly on advising and recommending the correct use of PPE. 

“The evidence base that was evolving was very clear and this allowed me to provide leadership and decision making that would ultimately keep my caregivers and patients safe.” 

As a whole St John of God Health Care employs 81 per cent women in the workforce and Prof Bowen is proud that four of her 6 person leadership team at St John of God Subiaco Hospital are female.
“Women do bring a different style of leadership to the workforce and this is important to recognise. We also play an incredibly important role in society when bearing children and taking additional responsibilities in family life.

“My advice to women is that you can “have it all” but sometimes you need to pace yourself as life is a continuum and work and life need balance and perspective. 

 “I think we all have a role to play in supporting women, and demonstrating respect for everything women are and can be is the first step in an equal relationship.”