As a brand new and fresh faced first year student, leadership wasn’t something I had consciously pursued amidst all of the learning and getting to grips with new placements and environments but I quickly came to find myself in leadership positions. I recall listening to people’s stories about their journey to begin the nursing course and the different obstacles they had faced and being concerned about issues facing the cohort that might present a barrier to their learning and, ultimately, their goal of being successful nurses. I decided to apply for the position of class rep and set about trying to represent the views of over 200 students, which has been incredibly challenging at times.
Along the way I have gained a great many insights into the obstacles facing not just students, but educational establishments, mentors and health and social care as a whole at an educational level. With each new dimension of experience I gain, I feel all the more compelled to learn more and to talk about it. But I hadn’t really considered myself a leader; for me, leadership has been about the talking that takes place behind the scenes – the listening to my peers. It’s been writing about my experiences and talking about contentious issues in order to gain the best possible understanding of how to help make realistic change a possibility. It’s been about highlighting where the problems are and whilst it has involved being a little bold at times, it hadn’t felt like leadership. I’m a helper, and saw myself as simply trying to help where I could. But, with the help of the Student Leadership Programme, I have come to see that leadership is exactly what I have been doing and the importance of recognising this within myself.
In March of this year I was invited by my university to complete a survey created by the Council of Deans of Health which asked questions about what I felt the ideal student leadership programme would look like. In May I was invited to apply to be a part of the programme, developed by the council but shaped by student responses. I hadn’t expected to be successful, but I applied with the hope that they might teach me to become a leader; having figured the best leaders make the best helpers. I was delighted to be chosen, but apprehensive about what to expect. I doubted myself, did I have what it takes to become a leader?
The opening event in Birmingham set the tone of the programme from the earliest moments. We were there not to learn how to become leaders, but because each of us had demonstrated leadership already. We were there to recognise that in ourselves, to develop those existing skills and to learn how to be good leaders capable of caring for ourselves and inspiring others.
We collaborated, debated, discussed and learned from each other. I felt incredibly inspired to be sharing a room with a group of confident and compassionate people with similar values and hopes for the future of health and social care. In this environment, surrounded by individuals who may well be the leaders and influencers of the future – all things seemed possible.
Over the two days we spent together, we heard from current leaders; their journeys, their passions, their achievements and their regrets. We listened to inspiring and motivating talks on self care, resilience, courage and learning to be authentic.
Hearing from Yvonne Sawbridge was the highlight for me. Yvonne is currently a senior fellow and The University of Birmingham, TEDx talker and spent 10 years as a Director of Nursing in a number of PCTs including South Staffs PCT which commissioned from Mid Staffs Hospital. Listening to Yvonne Speak about the Mid staffs enquiry and pose the question “Why might good people deliver bad care?” fuelled a fire within me that has been burning since the start of my course. As she discussed the concept of emotional labour, the humanity of the staff at the heart of the mid staffs enquiry and the sense of shame that so many have carried and continue to carry I became antsy in my seat. I wanted to get up, to learn as much as I could about emotional labour in health and social care and to do something!
As the event drew to a close, I left feeling energized and motivated. I hurried home to bury myself in books and articles on emotional labour and I applied to the Nursing Times to be a student editor, which I was recently shortlisted for. But I will continue to write for them and for other publications if I am not successful. My focus now is learning more, sharing far and wide the concept of emotional labour and addressing the obstacles good staff face in delivering good care.
The next stage of the programme involves mentorship and I am enthusiastic about learning from a current leader about what it means to be a leader on a day to day basis. But already, I feel like my journey has begun and that I have been given the support and tools required to develop my skills as the programme progresses and beyond, into my future career. I’m excited about what comes next.