From nurse to senior executive: how Cathy got her unexpected MBA

Wednesday, August 24, 2016 - 16:46

By Ben Ready

Since entering the health sector as a registered nurse, Kardinia Health CEO Cathy McDonald has been building her career one step at a time. When it came to building on her practical experience with some formal qualifications she took the same approach.

After nearly 20 years in the workforce and making the transition from nurse to senior executive, Cathy was looking to formalise some of the practical skills she had acquired in her professional life by undertaking a Graduate Diploma.

“I never really intended to do an MBA,” she said. “It started as a Graduate Diploma and once I’d finished that, the MBA seemed so close, I just had to go for it.”

Cathy graduated with an MBA from the Australian Institute of Management (AIM) in 2015 and has since become a strong advocate for the both the course and for AIM.

“If it wasn’t for the flexibility and range of course options provided by AIM, I’m not sure I would have been able to get to the finish,” she said. “But I did, and it’s an experience I can recommend to anybody who wants to take their career to the next level.”

Like a lot of MBA students, Cathy spent many years in the workforce before deciding to undertake further education. After starting her working career as nurse she began working for the Red Cross in 1993.

Over the next 18 years she became one of the organisations most senior managers, eventually becoming Operations Manager for Victoria and Tasmania where she oversaw more than 550 staff across 23 sites.

After leaving the Red Cross she had brief stints as a consultant and working for Breastscreen Victoria before being appointed the CEO of Geelong-based super clinic Kardinia Health.

Managing 26 consulting rooms and more than 50 staff including GPs and other allied health professionals, she is putting every part of her MBA into practice.

Cathy believes the flexibility provided by AIM’s course structure and delivery modes (face-to-face, intensive or online) made the jump from a Graduate Diploma to the full MBA an easy decision.

The AIM Business School MBA pathway allows students to build at their own pace towards a postgraduate qualification – Graduate Certificate, Graduate Diploma or MBA – with flexibility built in at every stage

“Having a family and a demanding job meant I didn’t have the flexibility to just come and go whenever the course required me,” she said. “I needed the course to fit my life, not the other way around.”

The highlight of the MBA for Cathy was the opportunity to undertake a Workplace Project as one of the elective subjects. The unit allows students to work with a facilitator from AIM in tackling an organisational issue enabling them to apply their learnings to add real value in the real world.

“I was lucky enough to work with our Chairman on strategies to improve our Clinical Governance,” Cathy said. “I had the opportunity to present the project to the Board so it became much more important than just another assignment, and consequently the learning was far more valuable.”

The AIM Business School MBA is accessible, flexible and practical, delivering an extensive understanding of business and management theory and practice. We breed leaders who possess confidence and skills across all disciplines of management. To find out how you can get started on your MBA journey, please visit or call 1300 658 337.