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Don’t doubt yourself – Peninsula Health’s new Chief Executive has some advice for other women

Felicity Topp is just as comfortable in the boardroom, leading an organisation of more than 5,000 people as she is at home, where she isn’t afraid to get out the power tools to do maintenance around the house.

Peninsula Health’s new Chief Executive’s advice to other women on International Women’s Day is simple.

“Don’t doubt yourself – jump in and have a go,” says Felicity.

“Women shouldn’t have to sacrifice family and looking after kids to take on leadership positions. I think we’re getting much better in health and other industries to ensure women can do both.”

A qualified nurse, Felicity joins Peninsula Health from Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, where she was Deputy Chief Executive.

Nursing is in Felicity’s blood.

“My Mum was a nurse and she always had good stories to tell,” says Felicity. 

“When I was a teenager Mum worked as a district nurse in Camberwell. During the school holidays I would go in there as a cleaner to earn pocket money. I used to sit around the lunch table with all the nurses and hear about their terrific lives of travel and adventure and that’s what sold me on nursing.”

Felicity followed in their footsteps, travelling to Africa on a gap year after completing her nursing degree.

“I did seven months travelling through Africa on the back of an old converted Safeway truck and it was fantastic fun. We did something like 30,000km driving between London to Kenya in that time.”

After returning to Melbourne to complete a course in critical care nursing, Felicity headed off again, this time to Saudi Arabia, where she worked in Intensive Care and a Cardiac Surgery Paediatric Unit, and was promoted to Nurse Unit Manager.

Her first senior executive leadership role came in 2000, when she moved into the Director of Operations role for the surgical acute program at Royal Melbourne Hospital

“While I absolutely love my clinical work, I have found I can significantly influence patient outcomes and support staff to provide the very best care, through being in leadership roles,” says Felicity.

Felicity chose to return to the spot where she spent many holidays as a child as she says there are fantastic opportunities at Peninsula Health, including the plans for a major expansion of Frankston Hospital.

“There is so much happening here on the Peninsula with so much development and growth, I wanted to be part of it all and have the opportunity to lead an organisation like Peninsula Health,” she says.

“My gran lived on the Peninsula and growing up as a kid I used to love going to the Rye Fair and fishing at night with my Dad.”

“I’m excited to work with the fantastic staff here to provide a world-class health service for a place where I have so many fond memories.”

Outside of work, you’ll find Felicity working on her garden or running with her two black Labradors, Iggy, a Seeing Eye Dog Australia breeding dog, and Lara, a failed Seeing Eye dog who is quite the character.

“A good weekend for me is when I’m outside in the garden. Whether it’s trimming hedges or the ride-on-lawn-mower there’s always something to do,” says Felicity.

Felicity started at Peninsula Health on 19 February.

Leading by example

  • Peninsula Health’s board is comprised of 3 men and 6 women, including chair Diana Heggie.
  • Peninsula Health’s Executive Team has an equal split of men and women.
  • 79% of Peninsula Health’s workforce identify as female

Jessica Mills