12th January 2021

Out of your comfort zone? Do it anyway!

Rachael Palmer, #150Leaders alumni and registered nurse, compares her experiences on the #150Leaders with the Healthcare Leadership Academy.

My Healthcare Leadership Academy (The HLA) experience started with a Twitter message from another nurse I’d connected with during the #150Leaders Programme. I loved my time with the #150Leaders: it opened my eyes to a world outside of my nursing degree and I met friends that I now meet up with regularly. It was the perfect introduction into healthcare leadership and what that looks like today.

This message though encouraged me to think about developing those skills further. I learnt that The HLA was a multi-disciplinary programme including medics and not just students but early career professionals with some leadership experience under their belt. It sounded daunting, and out of my comfort zone, but to me this meant I should probably do it anyway.

So I applied. The application involved a short video, an essay on my leadership experience to date and an idea for a project. It wasn’t a small undertaking, but I was proud of what I produced. I then had a short interview / chat with the course director, Johann, and was successful. I had some small idea of what the following year would entail, but not wholly…

Our first day was in London in September 2019, bringing together a whole intake of scholars from across the country and beyond. I’d taken the overnight Megabus from Plymouth and was bleary-eyed but soon awakened by the energy and enthusiasm of the room.

From that day on, there has been laughter, learning and lots of challenging conversations in a completely flat hierarchy. We have had training on talking to the media, how to not flop when doing some spontaneous public speaking, challenged our thoughts about diversity and inclusion and negotiated our way out of difficult situations.

But The HLA is more than the sessions and doing the exercises and elevating our projects, it is a virtual community of like-minded professionals from a hugely diverse range of backgrounds, ages, routes into their profession. It is a constant source of support and ideas. I like to think about The HLA community as a physical spider diagram of amazing people doing amazing things which never ends.

Talking of things not ending, my year with The HLA ‘completed’ last summer but you never really leave. I’m now a mentor for a 2020-21 scholar and the lead for The HLA Nurse and AHP Network, a group of scholars who are nurses and allied health professionals connecting in a shared space.

I would implore anyone from the #150Leaders to apply to The HLA and invite you to drop me a message if you have any questions about The HLA community, programme or application. It may be out of your comfort zone, but challenge yourself to do it anyway.

Rachael Palmer | @rachaelpalmerRNRegistered Nurse working in NHS Haematology, Clinical Demonstrator, Council of Deans of Health #150Leaders Alumni, HLA Scholar 2019-20 and HLA Nurse & AHP Network Lead.

3rd July 2020

Rollercoaster Journey! We & Us

By Sian Chinwuba, Student Child Nurse, Middlesex University

If I am being honest, so much has happened ever since covid-19. One thing I know for sure is that I am grateful for this opportunity to be a part of the Student Leadership Programme. I never imagined myself an actual leader because I did not quite understand the term, and if I would fit into the role of what I had perceived to be a leader.

Since the first conference in March, I feel like my eyes have been opened. Studying child nursing has always been a passion for me, and I always known I want to make a difference:

I want to impact the lives of many and find a way to change the environment and atmosphere and be the nurse that children and their families will always positively remember

I was very shy and quiet during the conference in March which is unusual for me. I felt like I did not fit in, especially being the youngest in my cohort. However, hearing from the speakers and their individual experiences helped me to feel more relaxed and it was a reminder that you always start from somewhere, even if it is small. I have met lovely people who have really made me feel welcome and understood and indirectly pushed me to come out of my comfort zone.

I want to create a platform where we can all come together, inspire and motivate each other with our unique experiences in life, in the hope that it touches those who are facing tough times. I want to see an environment full of love and diversity. I want everyone to know that there is hope and that there is an us in everything we do because WE are ONE. We are a united!

I have so many plans for myself in the future and cannot wait to embark on what is to come.


24th June 2020

Pride in 2020

By Aalijah Buttimer, Student Adult Nurse, University of Southampton

2020 is a year we will never forget, and the usual pride festivities held around June each year in honour of the 1969 Stonewall Inn riots have been cancelled. I would like to invite you to join me in reflecting on my experiences in higher education and the ways in which we can learn from them to reduce the challenges that LGBT+ students and staff face. At points I refer to Stonewall reports on LGBT+ experience in universities, and BAME LGBT+ experience; links to read these on the Stonewall website are provided at the end.

In 2017, on my first day of my nursing access course, the tutor assigned a controversial statement to each corner of the room and asked people to stand with a statement they agreed with. One corner of the room believed in supporting legalisation of assisted suicide; the opposite believed that schoolboys should not be allowed to wear skirts. Around half of the class stood in this corner and when asked to discuss, shared views such as: “It’s disgusting, and they should do that sort of business in private,” “Then they will be the same as the girls, it’s against nature,” and “I would take my children out of a school that allowed that”. These ideas were not explored or challenged, and I immediately understood that the tutor did not have the awareness or knowledge to support people like me.

Developing a shared learning contract that explicitly discusses respecting BAME, LGBT+ and disabled identity at the beginning of a programme or module is beneficial at all levels of education. Shared learning contracts contribute to a sense of community and empower those in the room to challenge discrimination when they see or experience it. We can also benefit from using similar contracts in student union societies and university accommodation contracts.

In 2018, after already accepting my offer to attend my university, I headed to an open day to familiarise myself with where I would soon be living. At the student union fair, I looked for signs that LGBT people were welcome. Any LGBT person can tell you that we do this subconsciously – we look for LGBT+ symbols and identifiers to assess whether we are safe and welcome. No LGBT+ society, symbols or identifiers were present, which clued me in on what my upcoming university experience would probably be like. I later learned that the lack of LGBT+ presence at open days is because all LGBT representation and support is provided voluntarily by untrained, unpaid students, who cannot attend dozens of open days and promotional activities each year due to the degrees they are also trying to achieve.

Many LGBT+ students at your university are working extremely hard to deliver a range of services for fellow LGBT+ people, including welfare care, social activities, sexual health provision, representation, policy input and more. Their efforts often go unrecognised by the wider university community, and any funding they receive is likely the same or less than a sports society. Similarly, many LGBT+ university staff contribute many hours of uncompensated labour as official or unofficial equality and diversity champions, on top of already demanding workloads. Please be considerate of what you are asking of people who are part of disadvantaged minority groups, and ask what funding is needed to appropriately support the work they do on the university’s behalf to meet their community’s basic needs.

Beginning my degree, I sat and completed forms on my first day, filling in my date of birth and address. When it came to my gender, I asked whether there was any way I could indicate that the gender on my passport, which conflicted with years of testosterone therapy, was not how I identified. I was happy to write the gender on my passport but also wanted to record that I was nonbinary. The staff member shrugged sympathetically and said no.

Do your student and staff records have space for a preferred name and gender identity to be stated? Filling in forms is often one of the first activities that applicants and new starters, student or staff, have to do. Making small adjustments that support LGBT+ people greatly influences our experience from the very start.

The following week I attended uniform fittings. We queued up in a classroom and once at the front of the line, a member of staff decided our size and gender by looking at us and gave us each a uniform to try on. We were pointed to a classroom to change, one for women and one for men. As a nonbinary trans person, changing rooms bring a deep sense of dread and I always avoid them in case someone notices that I’m trans and public embarrassment or physical violence ensues.

I didn’t know it at the time, but there were two other trans students in my cohort. They arranged a meeting with programme staff and explained why this had been an upsetting experience. Following this, the uniform fitting process is 1) less public and 2) self-identifying. Faculties of health can review their uniform fitting process with input from LGBT+ healthcare students to easily prevent unnecessary distress.

These events occurred within a year of each other and don’t explore the serious, traumatic homophobic assault I experienced at a student club in my first week; hearing homophobic and transphobic comments from fellow healthcare students in lectures; being asked to provide a written piece on the university’s LGBT+ inclusivity for a prospectus, without ever seeing any equality and diversity work from the university of any shape or form.

These events also aren’t just my bad luck or my city’s small-town atmosphere. A 2018 Stonewall report on LGBT+ student experience in universities found that 22% of LGB students and 60% of transgender students had received negative comments or behaviour from other students in the year prior to the research. Almost a quarter of BAME LGBT+ students had experienced this from university staff in the year prior, reflecting the significantly increased levels of structural discrimination that BAME LGBT+ people face in comparison to white LGBT+ people.

I can’t finish this piece without recognising the black lives matter movement, which at this moment has erupted globally, protesting the systematic oppression of black people. LGBT+ pride month occurs in June to mark the 1969 Stonewall Inn riots, when predominantly black and Latinx LGBT+ people fought back against police brutality. This week, 51 years later, we saw over 30,000 people march in Los Angeles for All Black Lives Matter, a protest against police brutality and in support of black LGBT+ people. Pride has been conflicted between celebration and protest for a number of years now, as some of us enjoy the privileges of progress more than others. While this blog post has detailed some of my own experiences as a white LGBT+ person, it’s essential to recognise that racism is pervasive within the LGBT+ community, and in daily life BAME LGBT+ people experience much higher rates of homophobia and transphobia than white LGBT+ people. We have much work to do before we can celebrate our collective freedom, and I hope that one day we make enough progress that being LGBT+ at university is a joyful experience for everyone.

Until then, I would encourage you to read Stonewall’s 2018 LGBT in Britain: University Report for guidance on improving university environments for LGBT+ students and LGBT in Britain: Homes and Communities for information on BAME LGBT+ experiences and recommendations on how to reduce racism in LGBT+ communities.

Edit: In the time since I wrote this piece, my university’s school of health sciences has appointed a new chair of their equality and diversity group and put out an open call to students to participate in this work. I am really grateful to see this movement and I hope that this creates a space to explore some of the ways to improve that are discussed above.


19th May 2020

Inclusive Leadership: not for the few, not even for the many, but for all

By Joy O’Gorman, Student Adult Nurse, University of Plymouth.

Our cohort welcome conference, hosted by the Council of Deans 150 Leaders programme, exceeded my expectations. Pre-conceptions and nagging self-doubt did not stand a chance and were certainly not catching a free ride in my suitcase on the way home.

Value your difference and think of your vulnerabilities as your strength’, powerful words from Stacy Johnson, MBE. ‘There is no such thing as imposter syndrome if you are being your authentic self’ more powerful words skilfully added with silent pause for reflection.

So, what is it that makes me tick, that inspires me and that drives me?  What are my vulnerabilities?

No individual’s life is ideal or perfect, but I do feel determined to make the most of my life. This might possibly be due to my status as a mature student, with a 20 year career ahead of me as opposed to forty years.  However, I think passion runs deeper than age status. Despite this, my nagging self-doubt regularly questions my right to study in my late forties. How irrational is this and what a waste of energy? I am here rocking it with some incredible individuals, as are lots of mature students throughout the four nations and globe.

I feel incredibly lucky to be able to undertake a nursing degree and to have a life where I can provide person centred care and work with some amazing people. Challenges inspire me and collaboration makes me happy. To be in a room with 50 passionate healthcare students from different walks of life was not just inspiring, it was incredible.  There was a diverse mix of age, gender, ethnicity and backgrounds. We each held a genuine eagerness to learn more about our unique routes to the 150 Leaders programme.  As we listened to the conference coaches and engaged in the weekend’s activities, there was a tangible sense of increased personal freedom. We found ourselves being given permission to keep doing what we are doing but with even greater focus.  Peer to peer feedback helped re-enforce this message. My peers’ words will remain with me throughout my career and beyond.

How does inclusive leadership translate into practice?  One of Stacy Johnson’s key messages is to seek equity, to focus on dismantling the fence, so exclusion does not exist. Why build different levels of steps behind the fence to help others see over it, when you can simply remove the fence itself?

Stacy also signposted us to discussions on the false perception that harmony will produce better effect, by Phillips, Liljenquist and Neale (2008). Teams are proven to perform better when diverse and so we should actively seek difference. ‘Seek to deconstruct your beliefs and step outside your comfort zone’ are words that continue to echo and inspire.  Being mindful of our pre-conceptions can help challenge the status quo and foster truly transformative leadership.

I feel attuned to @150leaders’ goals of promoting interdisciplinary understanding, diversity and inclusive leadership. My drive and passion for collaboration has been upgraded; petrol no longer fuels my tank, I’m now flying on rocket fuel. Thank you @150leaders for an inspiring weekend and to the incredible speakers for their generosity of spirit.

I look forward to the opportunity of engaging with my personal coach and peers and to seeing some amazing leadership projects unfold over the coming months.  No doubt you will spot some collaborative approaches in mine as I draw on inspiration from modern day leaders.

I would encourage any healthcare student to follow @150leaders and consider applying to their conferences and future programmes.  You will not regret it and can gain so much from the experience. I know I have and will continue to do so.

Joy O’Gorman, Year Two, Adult Nursing Student, BSc (Hons), University of Plymouth.


Phillips, Liljenquist and Neale (2008). Is the pain worth the gain? [Online]. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0146167208328062 [Accessed 18th May 2020]


12th May 2020

200 Years On: Florence, fear and field hospitals

By Rachael Palmer, third-year student nurse, University of Plymouth

The word ‘Nightingale’ has become a household name in recent weeks, with the building of huge field hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients. NHS Nightingale London was built in just 9 days. But why is Florence Nightingale a symbol for modern nursing today and how does this benefit our profession?

There are two themes to our image of Ms Nightingale. There’s the ‘lady with the lamp’, a symbol of hope, and comfort during some of her patients’ darkest moments. And there’s the statistician, the nurse who collected data and used statistical methods to enhance practice and prevent unnecessary deaths. This variation epitomises both the art and science of nursing today; the empathy and compassion, alongside the science and complexity of care. Nightingale recognised the need for nursing to be a profession of educated, organised advocates.

But any symbol isn’t without its controversy. Nightingale was not alone in her quest to change modern nursing. During the Crimea, Mary Seacole also went to the battlefield to nurse soldiers, would perform operations and nursed Cholera and Yellow Fever patients prior to the war, but her achievements have only recently been celebrated. Thus, after a campaign, the first COVID-19 rehabilitation hospital was named after Seacole.

So where did the public understanding of the art and science of nursing get lost, for nurses to become doctors’ assistants and angels? This is a huge social question to answer, with the interplay of the media and NHS hierarchies as two of many contributing issues, but I truly believe that 2020, the Year of the Nurse and Midwife is, and will be like no other for the health service. The spotlight on our profession, even from those at the top of the political tree, is welcome. Let’s just hope it’s actioned now and for future nurses.

I am one of those future nurses, and am feeling the imposter syndrome that creeps in when you near the end of your training. You cannot believe that in a few short weeks or months it’ll be you as the registered nurse responsible for the care and safety of patients, and many will have a crisis of confidence. Starting my career mid-pandemic only heightens this. But the bicentenary of Florence’s birth, alongside media, public and political attention on nursing and both its challenges and assets, fills me with hope. Just as Florence and Mary did for their patients and colleagues all those years ago.


Rachael Palmer: third-year student nurse (adult field), University of Plymouth, Student Leadership Program alumnus, Healthcare Leadership Academy Scholar 2019-20, 1/5 of @BloggersNurse, RCN Student Ambassador, Plymouth Students for Global Health Chair. @PUNCrachpalmer.


14th April 2020

My leadership journey reflection

By Simon James, second year adult nursing student, Swansea University

Before commencing my nursing degree in September 2018, I was employed in various areas of retail and hospitality, where even though I had accrued the titles of supervisor and assistant manager, I can honestly say I had little leadership experience. The closest to displaying leadership characteristics had been a stint as the man inside the children’s party mascot outfit at a well-known fast-food restaurant. I have one of those CVs that employers are suspicious over due to the number of different jobs. Luckily, I have always been given a chance. The various roles have provided me with a plethora of learning opportunities and helped me to develop the skills I have today. I am confident in my abilities. However, I have a face that often doesn’t fit and have been told many times that it would be impossible for me to succeed.

Shortly after starting at Swansea University, the Swansea Student Leadership Academy was promoted to the healthcare students through Beryl Mansel. Beryl is the Director of the Academy and an advisory group member for the Student Leadership Programme. It was an opportunity which instantly excited and intrigued me. I had been assigned trainer roles in most of my previous roles but felt unsure of my leadership abilities concerning others, but more importantly how to think like a leader. This sounded like the missing piece of the jigsaw. I had to apply ……..so I did!

Four months on from registering my interest and being accepted to take part, our first two-day workshop took place in March 2019. I already knew some of the students as they were in my nursing cohort. Adult, child, mental health and masters fields were all represented, along with colleagues from paramedic science, audiology, midwifery, social work, and health and social care programmes.

The course included icebreaker sessions, talks from leaders in the healthcare field, Welsh Government and students who had been involved in leadership programmes previously. James Moore – Assistant Director Organisational Design- Health Education and Improvement in Wales, delivered one of the talks which resonated with me and centred around identifying the qualities of being an introvert or an extrovert. I had always thought of myself as an introvert and considered it to be a bit of a hindrance. However, I do enjoy chaos, which probably makes me a rare breed? I was involved in a mentor/ coach programme and was delighted to be paired with Professor Patricia Owen, Head of School for Midwifery and Nursing, Keele University. We discussed leadership and conflict resolution, as I had sometimes struggled with this in the past. Over the two days, the themes discussed were of embracing difference, inclusivity, compassion and remembering that you don’t have to be a manager to be a leader.

We had a third day in July of that year which reinforced the ideologies and concepts of leadership and further bonded us as a tribe. It resulted in me becoming active on twitter and engaging with a broader audience. I also became part of @HCPnetwork, a twitter network created by #150Leaders alumni which I regularly contribute to and host days and debates.

Fast forward a little over 12 months and being part of @SWANSLA has presented me with many great learning curves. I have presented on behalf of the academy, alongside a fellow student, at the South West Regional Student Leadership Conference in Plymouth (May 2019) and assisted with delivering promotional talks to new cohorts and at interview selection days. I was also invited to be part of the advisory panel, alongside lecturers involved in the academy and 150 Leaders alumni students Samuel Richards and Angharad Colinese, to choose the next @SWANSLA cohort. The academy has also given me the push I needed to apply to become a buddy for nursing students and the @SWANSLA 2020 intake.

Then another exciting opportunity appeared on the horizon – the Council of Deans of Health’s Student Leadership Programme. I had heard great things from Sam and Angharad, who had been through the programme and I was eager to continue my leadership journey. In @SWANSLA I had found my ‘tribe’, the #150 Leaders sounded like an entire ocean of new people and skills to dive into. I applied and after a nervous 2-month wait, was offered a place to participate. Many talk of ‘Imposter’ syndrome and I always think “but I am just me!”. However, I am learning that this is the best way to be!

The speakers at the conference in Reading were thought-provoking and inspirational. It was terrific to meet so many like-minded people from many diverse backgrounds and fields. Listening to the likes of Stacy Johnson MBE talk about the value of inclusivity in teams was fascinating. I have always been a great believer in embracing diversity as a strength and this presentation reinforced the need to be guided by equality but also to praise individuality. I also thoroughly enjoyed the talk from Joanne Bosanquet MBE, who reiterated that you need to carve out your own path in life but at the same time be considerate of the ideas of others. I have never been one to follow the herd, and at times I wondered if it could be detrimental, but this was food for thought. With these ideas in mind, I am keen to connect with my coach for the programme – Lorraine Dixon, Head of School – Health and Social Care, University of Gloucestershire, to further develop my leadership journey.

Through both my university and national programmes, I have begun to understand the type of leader I am and traits which dictate my style of leadership. I have come to realise I enjoy being outside my comfort zone and that I am a genuine and honest person who likes to lead by example. I love an opportunity to network, mingle and expand my circle of contacts and these programmes have certainly delivered on all those fronts. With every interaction, I find another piece of my jigsaw!

In the current moment, healthcare needs leaders at all levels, and I am thankful and appreciative of the experiences that have been afforded to me.

I still have a lot to learn, but I am excited to see where my leadership journey takes me next.


9th April 2020

When “I” became “we”

By David Cabrini-Back, student physiotherapist, Bournemouth University

At the recent PhysioUK conference, #150Leaders alumni Emma Coleman said that a Physio career looks less like an arrow and more like spaghetti (I paraphrase).

I could argue that I have already had a spaghetti route getting to Physio, before I even started. I was a Chiropractor for ten years before deciding that I needed to move on. I enjoyed the education aspect of my patient interaction and decided to move into teaching. After working in a friend’s restaurant as a chef in the interim, I entered my school-based training and completed my PGCE. It turned out that a one-on-one interaction with a person was nothing like corralling twenty-five teenagers and convincing them that they want to learn science, and after eight months, I decided that teaching was not for me. I sat down with my wife, we discussed the options, and I decided that physiotherapy would fulfil all I was after from a career. After a late application, I was lucky and excited to be accepted by Bournemouth University.

Being the oldest in my year, I knew I had some experience and a desire to help my peers get the most out of their time at university. So, I put myself forward as a student representative, but I certainly didn’t see myself as a leader. It was in this role that my academic advisor suggested I apply to the #150Leaders programme. I applied, more in hope than expectation, and wasn’t accepted. I was disappointed but, not really feeling like a leader, this reinforced my knowledge that I really wasn’t a leader.

One of my achievements in my first year was to conceive and put together a team to organise and deliver a conference aimed at AHPs from the universities close to BU. This was a successful day. The best feedback, for me, was from one of the delegates who told me she wrote a 2000-word reflection about the talks. Staff members who came along commented upon how good the day had been, and that we should do it again.  But I really didn’t see this as an example of leadership.

However, one of the things that came out of the process was that I used “I”, instead of “we”, when talking about the organisation of the day. I tried to analyse what was driving this habit, and realised that it was a lack of self-confidence that was driving me to take credit for what was a collaborative effort. Perhaps I was a bad leader?

It was around this time that the #150Leaders programme came around again. I decided not to apply. I didn’t want to get rejected again, and I still wasn’t a leader.

Then I saw a video interview with Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool manager, which changed my view of leadership. I realised I was still seeing leadership as a lead from the front, having all the answers, being an inspirational sort of figure. Klopp discussed that leadership isn’t about being first in and last out, and it isn’t about having all the answers.  It’s about listening to people and helping them to be the best that they want to be, which, in turn, automatically improves the whole group and system. This resonated much more with my journey to this point.  I firmly see education as the main driver for self-betterment. I love learning. I love listening to people and finding out about them. Perhaps I was a leader after all, I just needed to get better.

So in a rush, two days before the deadline, I applied to the Student Leadership Programme again. With no time to prepare, I was more open and honest with my answers. Luckily enough, this got me onto the course.

It’s not easy to be an introvert in an extrovert’s world. It takes a lot of energy to be around people and I am generally quiet in a group situation. This was reinforced by my Meyer-Briggs personality test, which suggested I was an “Introverted Defender”. I don’t like change, but I will do everything I can to make other people happy. All this meant walking into a room full of strangers on the 10 March and it filled me with trepidation. There was so much to find out about people. Why were they there? What did they do which made them stand out?

The speakers really worked to make you feel that you belonged. Dr Katerina Kolyva spoke about leadership styles and the evolution of a leader. The alumni that spoke were all from different backgrounds and were different characters. Stacy Johnson MBE discussed the characteristics of junior leadership, which helped me realise that asking “why not?” was a strength. Professor Nigel Harrison gave a fascinating insight into his leadership journey and encouraged us to find additional skills that complement our path. Joanne Bosanquet MBE showed that you need to be brave. Seize opportunities that arise, even if you don’t think you’re the right person for the job.

What I took away from the two days was that it was okay for me to be the type of leader I want to be. This won’t be the radical thinker or the lead-from-the-front follow-me type. This is the leader I want to be: “if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, become more, you are a leader”. I know there is still a long way to go. I need to work on my confidence, self-belief and learn to work with my imposter syndrome, but I now know the “I” will become “we”.

Thank you to all at the Council of Deans of Health and the Burdett Trust for Nursing that have enabled this to happen.


8th April 2020

A leader, me? Haha!

By Ismat Khan, diagnostic radiography student, University of Cumbria

The title of this reflection is the exact thought-stream that ran through my brain the second I came across an email regarding the Student Leadership Programme. I remember opening the email and glancing at it and thinking that could never be me. I can’t do that. A small-town hijabi be a leader? But it was quickly followed by this one thought – just what if?

What if I could be a leader?

That ‘what if’ was the beginning of a journey I shall forever be indebted and grateful for. By the time I saw the application form, I had nine days left until the deadline. I’m terrible at applications and I can’t count the number of times I have applied for job posts over and over again without being successful. I am now thankful for each of those times for building the resilience to rejection that enabled me to apply for this. I thought, screw it – what’s the worst that’s going to happen besides not getting the opportunity? I emailed Tom, my clinical tutor, the supporting form even before I had drafted answers to the questions. The rest of that week whilst on placement, every staff member became a victim to my constant questioning. I wrote and rewrote my answers every night that week. I was adamant on making sure it was perfect.

I didn’t think about the programme for the next month until 19 December – the day I got the email. I was scared and nervous, but excited. After reading congratulations on the subject of the email, it felt so good! For about the first 15 seconds. 15 seconds of my heart racing and an adrenaline rush. Fifteen seconds of being at the top of the pile of my accomplishments. I was to be one of the 50 #150Leaders out of the hundreds of applicants. I clicked on the email and read it over, and over and over. Then came the 16th second – the oh shoot moment.

They chose me?

The self-doubt is inevitable. I questioned whether I would be able to fulfil the role or if I would be able to honour the opportunity. It’s human to have anxiety – it’s healthy. But you must fight that fear with self-belief and courage. Challenge those thoughts with – what if I exceed the role? Not knowing the possibilities is scary but also exhilarating. Sometimes we do not feel special or different. Sometimes we feel like we don’t have anything important to say. But that’s not true. Regardless of who you are, we all have a voice. Yes, some voices get heard louder than others, but it shouldn’t stop you from raising yours.

One of the questions on the application form asked what do you expect to gain from being on the programme. This was a particularly difficult question for me, as I had never gone into a programme with specified goals. To be honest at first, I just wanted to enter it with an open mind to all opportunities but after taking this question into careful consideration I answered:

“I believe the programme will provide a unique experience to be exposed to a range of new opportunities and people to gain a wider perspective on the NHS. I believe it will allow me to network with other healthcare students and understand their role within the NHS. Thus, allowing me to widen my perspective and develop my emotional and self-awareness. I hope to learn what a role in leadership entails and understand how as a student I can have a role in leadership. Within the NHS, I believe it is important to not have isolated medical teams, and instead, encourage multi-disciplinary teams to improve work-life and patient treatment. I expect to gain confidence and empowerment to encourage integration between healthcare professionals.”

After submitting, I had deleted my drafts due to being anxious and had forgotten about the goals I had set. Once on the programme I asked to see a copy of my application. I was surprised and almost shocked to realise that most of the goals I had set out to achieve had been accomplished within the two days of the welcome residential.

The two days were life changing and I don’t use that phrase lightly. The mere 48 hours turned my entire perspective on the NHS and healthcare system upside down – or I should say the right way up. I saw this optimistic new outlook to healthcare and was made aware of the vast scale. Not only do I have a better idea of how our healthcare system runs and who is involved but gained an insight to the many other AHP roles.

The most crucial aspect of the residential was networking. It was one of the main goals that I had set out to achieve. I wanted to interact with people who were passionate and had a determined mindset, but I never thought I would find where I belong. I found my tribe of people despite being from completely different backgrounds, cultures, religions and even age. Everyone in that room was incredibly passionate about what they do and working within the NHS. Some of the stories across the dinner table humbled me – these people were selflessly dedicated. The extra hours of care and precision they put into their work was so admirable, despite hardly ever receiving recognition for their work. It was something that I could relate to so well. I had worked extremely hard for my seat at that table and amongst them, it felt deserved.

Between every workshop or session, we were asked to switch tables and sit next to someone new. In any other setting I would have felt completely uncomfortable but sitting there I was excited to meet the next person and hear all about their profession and experience. I felt comfortable presenting my ideas, discussing difficult topics, pulling together tasks and planning a whole event in 30 minutes and then pitching to a Dragon’s Den panel.

I am not one of those people who are extroverted and comfortable in a crowded environment, especially in one filled with intellectual people. But I felt comfortable because I felt respected, genuinely seen and heard. Despite my skin colour, my hijab, my age or the fact that I was the only Diagnostic Radiography student – I felt valued. I did not know I was missing that level of mutual understanding and recognition until that day. That night I ended up staying up very late and only getting a maximum of three hours of sleep after meeting a fellow hijabi, who is a student mental-health nurse. We talked all night about each other’s professions and life experiences that led to us to #150Leaders and it felt like I was catching up with an old friend. The privilege of attending those two days was overwhelming.

We ended on a high with a group of us ended up travelling home together. Although it was bittersweet with the looming COVID-19, we made the most of the journey; from getting lost between tube stations to sprinting to catch our train from Euston station. Despite the distance, it hasn’t kept any of us apart – the multiple #150Leaders group chats have been filled with positivity. Everyone shares incredible parts of their lives, asks questions and provides advice, and especially during these hard times it is a silver lining to have such a great support system at our fingertips. To the say the least, the love and support did not stop when we walked out of the venue’s doors. It was just the start of many incredible friendships and journeys.

6th April 2020

What is a leader?

By Rachael McGregor, second year adult nursing student, University of Glasgow

When I applied for the Council of Deans of Health’s Student Leadership Programme, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I had done the research, and read other reflections by previous participants, but still had little information about how it would impact me, personally. I had never considered myself a ‘leader’, whatever that meant, before this programme. A good team player. A self-motivated person who achieved her BA after 3 years of distance learning, before realising that her true passion lay in the personal connection that is so key to nursing. A student who could direct and receive direction on group projects. But a leader?

That began to change when my academic advisor told me about the CoDH Student Leadership Programme. Through her belief that I would be a good fit for the Programme, and would undoubtedly benefit from the experience, I felt encouraged to apply. In my previous degree, I rarely had in-person contact with my peers. The leadership skills I had begun to develop in secondary school had stagnated, and my confidence in those skills consequently decreased. When I found out I had been successful in my application for #150Leaders, I felt encouraged that my advisor’s confidence in my skills had not been misplaced.

By the time March arrived, and the Programme start with it, I was buzzing with excitement – to meet my fellow cohort, to hear the wonderful speakers (including Stacy Johnson MBE, Joanne Bosanquet MBE, Professor Nigel Harrison, and Adele Nightingale), and to hear the experiences of other student healthcare workers, especially Allied Health Professionals. However, due to unforeseen transportation issues, I arrived three hours late to the conference hotel. Sitting in Lancaster Station, waiting for hours on a southbound train, I didn’t feel much like a leader. I had let my emotions get the better of me, and more than anything I felt like I had somehow failed. Surely that didn’t happen to leaders – surely they were in control, professional, and with a firm handle on their emotions at all times?

That mindset began to change the moment I met the rest of my cohort. You could scour the country for another 50 student nurses and AHPs, and not find a kinder or more encouraging group of young professionals. Talking with them throughout the final event of the day and onwards to the dinner that night, I began to feel at home on the Programme. There was such a wealth of different experiences, and different approaches to leadership – I began to suspect that my assumption about ‘what a leader was’ would be proved wrong by the end of the two-day conference.

I was proved right the next day, receiving talks from Joanne Bosanquet and Adele Nightingale about person-centered leadership and the role of resilience. Points which had previously appeared to be little more than buzzwords were brought to life as they, and all the speakers at the conference, shared their own personal leadership journeys to illustrate their presentations.

Leaving Reading that afternoon, waving goodbye and exchanging contact information with the wonderful cohort I had met there before getting on the train back to Glasgow, I began to reflect on what I had learned over those whirlwind two days. I had seen examples of different leadership styles, and learned about others. I had heard about resilience; the different components of it, and how at times lack of it can provide a valuable opportunity to grow and learn as a leader. And I had learned that failure, far from the stigma associated with it in school, can actually be a valid and vital aspect of growth and leadership.

Now, weeks after that conference and facing possibly the most stressful time to be a student nurse, I can look back and remember what I learned during this stage of the Programme. And this, I think, is the key strength of #150Leaders; that we are student leaders. The strength, encouragement, and validation I have received through this cohort is one of the most valuable takeaways. It’s something I will implement both in my future professional practice, and at the present moment in my practice as a student.


3rd April 2020

The Leadership Journey So Far: From Ally to Advocate

By Phillip Bardy, first year adult nursing student, University of West London

I honestly hadn’t planned on applying for the Council of Deans of Health’s Student Leadership Programme. I hadn’t put myself forward for any leadership roles within university up until that point. I had told myself I was doing this because as a white man I had an inherent advantage over my colleagues within my cohort. I was not only statistically more likely to progress within my career but also to earn more. The fact is I am white male student on an adult nursing cohort in London that is predominately made up of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) females, and as such I recognised I have an inherent privilege that I cannot ignore. I argued I would be being greedy by taking the role of student rep, when one of my colleagues could gain valuable skills and insight from the role.

Sadly, the privilege that white males have, such as I, working within the healthcare sector is not a new trend. You’ve probably heard the tales about how old-fashioned nursing schools would only allow unmarried young ladies to join, a rule that was not applied to young men applying to become doctors. However, this privilege is not a thing of the past either. In 2018 despite women making up 77% of the entire workforce of the National Health Service (NHS), we know from gender by grade figures they only made up 47% of senior management roles, (NHS Digital, 2019 b). Furthermore, we also know that on average male medical staff are paid approximately £806 more per month whilst non-clinical female staff are paid £190 less on average, (NHS Digital, 2019 a). Additionally, BAME staff are statistically more likely to earn less than their white colleagues working within the NHS, whether they be female or male. For example, black males in managerial roles are likely to earn 20% less than their white male counterparts, (NHS Digital, 2019 a).

Therefore, I had reasoned that by giving up my ‘seat at the table’ I was doing some good, I was supporting my colleagues to have opportunities to undertake roles that I may have taken. However, one of my lecturers pointed out to me that to be a nurse is to be a leader no matter the role or seniority you occupy. This is supported by Dryer (2018) who states nurses, despite not being necessarily considered as leaders, have an integral part to play in coordinating and leading the treatment and care of their patients. Additionally, within their role as a patient advocate in the multi-disciplinary team, they need to show further characteristics and traits identified within leadership to promote the best wishes of the patient and protect their wellbeing. This led me to question whether I was being as altruistic as I thought I was, or was I just refusing to challenge myself further.

Consequently, I applied for the Student Leadership Programme. This programme seeks to develop and promote skills amongst nursing, midwifery and other allied health professionals. I didn’t have a clue what to expect or what I was letting myself in for and I certainly didn’t expect to get onto the programme.  So, when I did receive the email confirming my application was successful, I will happily admit to being that surprised my cat managed to pinch the cup of tea I had just made for myself.

What followed thereafter was a two-day conference in March where I was introduced to my fellow student leaders, all of whom are exemplars and role-models. During this time, we heard from some of the previous members of the programme who outlined what they had gained from it, engaged in group activities and listened to the framework and plan for the programme. Additionally, we had several keynote speakers who attended the conference.

These speakers covered an array of topics ranging from theories of leadership to person-centredness and resilience. All these areas and topics were exceptionally informative and educational. Additionally, there was a moving story about the background and history of one of speakers and how they got to be where they are today. All the topics were understandably and appropriately linked to the key aims of the programme and completely relevant to the field of health and social care work.

However, a discussion led by Stacy Johnson MBE on inclusive leadership and diversity in the workplace was, what can only be described for me as, mind-blowing. I thought I had been a supportive ally on this issue and that I understood it – little did I realise how much more I had to learn. I had always realised there was a moral argument for diversity and how it cultural enriches not only the NHS but our society. What I did not realise was the rich evidence that indicates organisations can flourish and prosper when they encourage and promote diversity (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 2013).

I’d always prided myself on being tolerant and respecting others view, opinions, wishes and religions. However, I was challenged to think beyond tolerance, why was something different something that should only be viewed as being tolerated? What shouldn’t it be praised and welcomed for being the exceptional difference that it was? Why weren’t we ignoring the rules of conformity and welcoming the rich knowledge, experiences and cultural values of being different?

I sat in awe during this session, wondering how I had been so wrong whilst thinking I was so right. I realised I don’t need to be just an ally supporting people by no taking action myself. I need to be an advocate for things to get better. I need to lend my voice, ideas and arguments to the issue and support my colleagues in a much more personable manner.

So here I am now, about to engage in both the student leadership programme and my nursing degree knowing that I need to be an advocate for change. Do I know how I am going to be that catalyst yet, instead of just the supportive ally I have been previously? No, I truly don’t. However, I have some ideas; I’m still studying, I am still finding my way and I am still trying to be a sponge and soak up all the knowledge I can. Yet, what I do know is that I need to be prepared to ask my colleagues and friends questions and make myself uncomfortable with home truths about the rights and privileges that I have taken for granted. Most importantly I need to reflect on my own values and belief system to identify any unconscious bias that may influence my ability to listen to and acknowledge the issues my BAME and female colleagues face. This will enable me to ensure I do not propagate any barriers my colleagues encounter whilst supporting them to overcome these issues.


Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (2013) The business case for equality and diversity: a survey of the academic literature. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-business-case-for-equality-and-diversity-a-survey-of-the-academic-literature (Accessed: 1st April 2020).

Dryer, C. (2018) ‘Leadership’, Teaching and Learning in Nursing. 13(3). pp. A7-A8.  doi: 10.1016/j.teln.2018.04.002

NHS Digital (2019 a) NHS basic pay. Available at: https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/workforce-and-business/public-sector-pay/nhs-basic-pay/latest#gender-pay-gap-by-type-of-role (Accessed 1st April 2020).

NHS Digital (2019 b) NHS Workforce Statistics – December 2018 (Including supplementary information on Mental Health workforce). Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/nhs-workforce-statistics/december-2018 (Accessed: 1st April 2020).