"I VALUE everybody, whether it's the cleaner or the neurosurgeon I'm working with - we all have different skills, but we all make a difference."
Compassion, respect and working together are all keys to being a great leader for Michele Gardner. The new general manager of medicine for Wide Bay Hospital and Health Service has treated everyone from criminals in custody to Formula One drivers.
The Adelaide girl was inspired by "strong women" in her family - her aunt and her sister were nurses - and has worked her way up from a critical care nurse to become an executive in the public health system, using her power to change laws to improve the lives of vulnerable people.
She has often been a lone female leader in a male-dominated environment, such as in her role as the first CEO of the Victorian Coroner's court, which she began in 2008.
She has also had years of experience in providing healthcare in the justice system, citing figures like Victorian Department of Justice head Penny Armytage and former police commissioner Christine Nixon as strong female leaders who inspired her.
"I've worked with amazing people, both men and women. It's important in any leadership role to be honest and transparent and strong, and not let your gender define you."
Has she faced challenges because of her gender?
"Yes, absolutely," she says. "I don't think there is woman who hasn't."
But Ms Gardner has learned "it's not so much the gender, it's the person".
"Even in custody, I have seen men who are very respectful of women because they value their mothers and the women in their lives," she says.
"It's not so much about gender, it's about being respectful - and sometimes in stressful environments, people do forget that stuff.
"You couldn't be human if you weren't moved by some of the experiences we have - I've seen people weep, male and female.
"One thing healthcare has taught me is not to make assumptions about people - but to be compassionate and generous of spirit.
"To achieve an effective resuscitation," she says by way of example, "you need everybody in that room to play their part.
"And I think that's a great leveller in healthcare."
Head hunted for her job in Wide Bay, she's ready to change the system if the need arises, and is keen to improve services like the home doctor service.
"I'm always questioning the way things have been done," she said, "and the best improvements have come from staff on the ground."
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