Departing Whanganui District Health Board chief executive Julie Patterson has a pile of unread novels to get through before she thinks about her next move.

For the nine years she has held the position, her husband Terry has lived at their home in Marlborough and the two have commuted between two places.

"It will be nice to just relax and read for a while," said Ms Patterson.

"I have always worked in public health and I feel I still have more to give but I'll decide what form that might take when I'm ready."

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A graduate of the Wanganui School of Nursing, she later obtained a BA then an MBA so taking on the role of chief executive for WHDHB in 2008 felt like coming home, she said.

The board was in poor financial shape when she arrived and coping with the aftermath of scandal over inadequate background checks on surgeon Roman Hasil, responsible for numerous botched operations in 2005 and 2006.

"The staff were really in the trenches and what I'm most proud of now is that they can hold their heads high and public confidence has been restored," said Ms Patterson.

WDHB has gone from a deficit of $10 million nine years ago to being on budget in the last financial year.

"It is very gratifying that the financial side of things is in good shape but to me patient safety and staff confidence are the most important things."

Ms Patterson said she has encouraged a number of WDHB staff to take on national roles and there have been "huge gains" in confidence and experience for staff.

Her own national role as DHB spokeswoman during New Zealand-wide junior doctors' strikes last year was a difficult one, she says.

"I found it really hard to be in that oppositional role with the union because I do believe in the work they do and we have a very unionised workforce.

"Modern unionism is healthy and can work well for employers and staff when the right discussions take place."

Ms Patterson said she appreciated receiving a small farewell gift from the Public Service Association (PSA) representative.

Asked if she believes health boards are best served by health professionals as chief executives, Ms Patterson said it is not necessary.

"It's a matter of having the right advisers," she said.

"I have had good administrative and financial advisers whereas someone with a financial background will need good clinical advice."

The only real frustrations of the job she said, have been financial ones when staff have had to wait for new equipment that would not fit into the budget.

"I have had to ask staff to be patient when I would have liked to tell them they could have it straight away."

Ms Patterson was looking forward to a special family dinner with her husband and three sons at Caroline's Boatshed on Friday night before heading home to Marlborough and those novels.

New WDHB chief executive Russell Simpson will take up his position in the New Year and WDHB corporate services general manager Brian Walden will be acting chief executive in the meantime.