Becoming nurse leaders

To mark International Nurses Day, Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for England, shares her thoughts on what it means to be a nurse leader and thanks nurses for all they do for people and their families every day of the year:

This Sunday marks International Nurses Day and as well as being a time to thank nurses for all that they do, it’s also an opportunity to reflect on the face of nursing and its future.

Earlier this week, I was delighted to hear about Jessica Anderson being awarded the world record for running the fastest London Marathon, dressed as a nurse, while proudly wearing her own nurse’s uniform. But what struck me was the outdated view of what a nurse should wear or look like according to Guinness World Records.

When people talk about nurses who helped them or a loved one, they don’t talk about their uniforms, but about how they made them feel. How they guided them through the most joyous or difficult times in their lives. They talk about them with meaning, with feeling and real emotion.

The nurses who support families in caring for their parents with Alzheimer’s when they have to come to terms with missing and losing them while they are still there. The nurses who do the work day-in, day-out, often in the most difficult of circumstances, to give patients the care that improves their lives.

Every family has their own story about the nurse who was there for them in the most profound moments of their lives. And they don’t just talk about how the nurses made them feel better with their kindness, warmth and compassion. They talk about how reassured they were, how much more confident they were, because of the nurses’ skill, expertise and competence. This is what it means to be a nurse.

When we talk about nurses, we celebrate them, we value them.

We are so much more than a uniform. Focusing on a traditional uniform completely dismisses the role of nurses across the sectors. Not every nurse wears a uniform or wears one all the time. But the Twitter storm that raged last weekend brought us together; it was nurses across the country speaking with a collective voice #teamCNO.

Which is why as CNO I want to reach out to all nurses as we approach 2020 and the Year of the Nurse, to harness the support that was shown to Jessica and to collectively change these perceptions. And to do that I want you all to recognise the true value and importance of what you do.

As nurses, we often don’t take the time to stop and assess the impact that we have on people. We don’t always recognise our own worth. I want you all to know that you are essential to your workplaces – be it a hospital, care home, community or surgery. I am proud of you all and I want you to feel proud of what you achieve every day.

We can collectively continue to change outdated stereotypes. But we must also start spreading the message of nursing as a rewarding and enriching career choice much earlier. I was proud to officially launch the Future Nurse mini-uniform at my CNO Summit. The aim is to get young people, boys and girls, thinking about a career in nursing from an early age in a way that breaks down historic stereotypes. I have gone across England promoting the uniforms and the reception they have received has been inspiring.

What the enthusiasm for the Future Nurses’ uniform and the support for Jessica Anderson has shown me is that we are stronger when we come together and speak with a collective voice. A collective voice enables collective leadership. And it is this leadership that turns outdated stereotypes on their head. Nurses came together to challenge authority and in the case of Jessica Anderson, won.

I believe we are all capable of achieving great things. When we tackle the embedded stereotypes about our role, we are heard. Ours is a highly skilled, educated profession and includes extraordinarily skilled people and leaders.

As we approach 2020 and the year of the nurse, it’s our chance to show people what we are capable of and to speak to a younger generation of nurses and future nurses. We are all leaders and part of #teamCNO. When we speak as one, we make a difference.

Let’s keep this momentum going as we approach 2020 and Happy International Nurses Day to you all.

Ruth May

Ruth enjoyed national appointments with NHS Improvement and Monitor, as well as regional and trust leadership roles, before becoming the Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) for England in January 2019.

In June 2022, as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Honours, Ruth was awarded a DBE for her services to nursing, midwifery and the NHS since she started her nurse training in 1985. Upon receiving her Damehood, Ruth recognised the expertise of nursing and midwifery colleagues in caring for people at every stage of their lives and the vital role that the professions and care staff played during the pandemic. Ruth has led the nursing, midwifery and care professions’ response to COVID-19 in England and led collaborative work with UK CNO colleagues, the NMC and trade unions to ensure agreement and consistent messaging on key issues.

She is passionate about nurturing the next generation of NHS nursing and midwifery leaders and encouraging professional development opportunities. This includes advocating for improved mental health awareness, championing volunteer activity to support the frontline workforce, and she is a vocal supporter of the WRES agenda and increased diversity across the NHS.

Proud mum to her wonderful daughter, Ruth is a great believer in a healthy professional and home life balance for all.

Find Ruth on Twitter @CNOEngland / #teamCNO.

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One comment

  1. ann lloyd keen says:

    So special of Ruth to share her thoughts and passion. This is our time, speaking together with one voice we will be stronger true leaders and support each other. You can not have a safe innovative and compassionate Health Service without Nurses. Let us now support and care for our colleauges and keep all safe.