Tackling racism in healthcare higher education: #RaceEquityMonth Blog

17 November 2021

Using support networks within the university to support Black and other ethnic minority nursing academics as they proceed through their careers.

Sheila Sobrany Lecturer Adult Nursing Middlesex University

The Healthcare Academics Race Equality Diversity Inclusivity Networks (HAREDIN SAG & SHAREDIN) focus on the contributions of Black and other ethnic minority nursing academics. They act as support networks to academics and their students in undergraduate, postgraduate study and beyond. The networks use a ‘lift as you rise’ approach because they have a clear understanding of the barriers the academics and students face. Their work aims to reduce attrition and improve retention and career progression of nurses in the NHS and higher education through coaching and mentoring and allow them to thrive through being in touch with their sense of cultural and professional identity.

The founder and chair of the networks, Sheila Sobrany, carried out a quantitative research study conducted within the Health and Education Faculty at Middlesex University. The first year students that were included in the study had English both as first and second language and studied Adult, Child and Mental Health fields of Nursing. An online questionnaire was used with 80 out of 240 students.

A descriptive data analysis showed that participants were largely diverse, spoke multiple languages, were of female gender and young students. Expectations were high in terms of the overall quality of teaching and not just the accessed resources. Older students struggled to cope with learning, accessing resources, and transitioning, more than younger students. Students reported that they wished to reduce confusion, and lack of clarity and wanted to see more consistency throughout the programme. Teachers need to be supported to develop cultural congruence. When teaching these students, institutions need to develop a culturally sensitive curriculum and identify older and at-risk students.

Students wanted their teachers to be accessible and make time to see drafts and discuss their work in detail; the lack of these opportunities created anxiety. Students tended to approach mainly Black, Asian and minority academic staff in the Faculty because they felt they could culturally identify with them and were more comfortable to report experiences of inequality and racism, as these academics were ‘woke’ aware of the social injustices. The networks worked collaboratively with the Network Chairs, Sheila Sobrany and Georgina Cox to organise initiatives to support students and nursing staff.

Progress, projects and achievements to date

  • Empowerment to Greatness

The Empowerment to Greatness Series sought to decolonise conversations that dismantle the view that racism is acceptable in nursing and can continue to affect career progression and working lives of BME nurses in the NHS (WRES 2018, 2019). There were 11 speakers and attendance of up to 100 students on each occasion.

  • Woke and Spoke Café

The HAREDIN and SHAREDIN meetings were run online in Zoom, thus providing that all- important safe psychological space for students and academics to share their experiences and feelings, free from judgement, (Serrant-Green 2010). The Woke and Spoke Café online weekly meetings were used to support the networks’ chairs and the students, academic staff, and alumni. In one meeting, many students shared experiences of placement, learning and community life. Some students and alumni became ill with COVID- 19, but the Woke and Spoke Café enjoyed universal popularity. Those who participated found the opportunity helpful and inspiring during challenging and dark times.

Achievements to note

  • Six Students Nominated by HAREDIN for the Chief Nursing Officers Diversity Award 2019 with a student winner in 2nd Place;
  • Ghana trip with members of HAREDIN in 2019 Leader Kelly Ncube won the Zenith Global Awards;
  • HAREDIN received the One Middlesex Staff Awards 2020 Excellence in Equality Diversity Inclusion;
  • SHAREDIN leaders spoke publicly on BLACK LIVES MATTER in the University. The Middlesex Anti-Racism Network was developed and co-chaired by the HAREDIN Chairs;
  • Reverse Mentoring to the Vice Chancellor;
  • Students have co-mentored and supported two students to successfully apply for the Council of Deans for Health 150 Leaders programme;
  • Students have co-authored four academic papers in nursing journals;
  • Students have written in the Nursing Times and other publications;
  • Curriculum work -Pedagogies of Hope Development of EDI in the curriculum;
  • Cross collaboration with Race Belief, Gender, LGBTQ, Disability, carers’ networks;
  • Finalists in two categories of the Student Nursing Times Awards 2021.

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