31st March 2020

From Dreamer to Student Leader

By Alicia Burnett, third year student midwife, University of West London

I have always wanted to help people but I have not always been sure about how to make this dream a reality. Through studying midwifery I have found my place in the world, and by gaining a place on the Student Leadership Programme, I can see myself becoming a leader as a midwife!

I completed my children’s nursing degree in 2015, and over the next eighteen months worked on general paediatric wards and in a busy children’s accident and emergency department. I was quite happy working as a children’s nurse and particularly liked caring for babies and children with chronic illnesses, but I always felt that an area of my skills and knowledge remained under-developed — I had no insight into the journeys of women and babies before I became involved in their care, so I began to look into the role of the midwife. It sounded great! The only problem was that the NHS Bursary I had benefitted from throughout my nurse training was being withdrawn from August 2017. I was not keen to enter into further debt (I was still paying off the student loan from my first degree!), so I took a chance and applied to every university in London with intakes before the withdrawal deadline, and managed to get into my first choice university!

It was not easy. I found some of the complex physiological processes difficult to get to grips with, and began doubting whether giving up my nursing career and steady income to become a student again, was wise. But towards the end of my first year everything clicked into place, and I felt confident that becoming a midwife was the right choice for me. My confidence grew further in my second year, when one of my essays was accepted for publication in The Student Midwife Journal, and I was invited to become an editorial board member!

Through studying midwifery, I have developed an interest in the alarming maternal mortality statistics for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) women in the UK, and have been reflecting upon how I could combat these health inequalities. I concluded that in order to bring about meaningful change when I qualify, I needed to develop leadership skills that were not being cultivated by my degree programme. So I took another chance and applied for the Student Leadership Programme. I was absolutely delighted when I found out that I was selected as one of 150 Leaders!

I was extremely nervous the week before the start of the programme, so I arranged to meet 150 Leaders alumni Zoe Carciente, for tips about how to make the most of the welcome event and the programme as a whole. She advised me that I would get out of the programme what I put into it, and that I should use the opportunity to network with multidisciplinary and allied health professionals. I also contacted my lovely buddy Abbie Rich, who told me to make an effort to speak to as many people as possible.

The 2020 cohort of 150 Leaders gathered in Reading on the 10th of March for an amazing two day welcome event. The excitement of the first day was etched on everybody’s faces and everyone listened intently to Dr Katerina Kolyva’s welcome speech. We took part in ice-breakers and group activities, repeatedly changed seats to give us the chance to meet different people, and listened to inspirational speakers including 150 Leaders alumni, Stacy Johnson MBE, Professor Nigel Harrison, Joanne Bosanquet MBE and Adele Nightingale. Wanting to proudly represent midwifery during the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife, I convinced fellow student midwife Barbara McLeod-Montani to join me in wearing red to dinner that evening, as the Royal College of Midwifery (RCM) is using red to symbolise the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. Dinner was another opportunity to network and socialise, and I found myself discussing a broad range of topics including intersectionality, LGBTQIA advocacy and the role of nursing associates.

The Student Leadership Programme has changed my life — and it has only just begun! I have been introduced to my coach Beverley Al-Azzawi and I am looking forward to getting to know her and working on my project. The programme has granted me the opportunity to meet a tremendous range of like-minded, trainee multidisciplinary and allied healthcare professionals and I feel incredibly lucky. I look forward to where the programme will take me!