Dyslexia Awareness Week 2023

Dyslexia Awareness Week runs from 2 to 8 October 2023. Chief Nursing Officer for England, Dame Ruth May and Anthony Swan, Inpatient Unit (IPU) Charge Nurse at St Catherine’s Hospice Preston, share their reflections of being dyslexic.

The theme for this year’s Dyslexia Awareness Week is Uniquely You, and I firmly believe that my dyslexia plays a huge part in making me unique. In my view, dyslexia is something to be celebrated. I’m proud to be who I am and I’m proud to be dyslexic.

I’d suspected that I had dyslexia for years but I was only diagnosed about five years ago. When I was younger there was a stigma around dyslexia, and this is one of the reasons I didn’t get a diagnosis until I was older. Being diagnosed has given me clarity on why I find some things difficult and why others are much easier. I know that I operate very differently from other people and I am fine with that. We all need diverse people with diverse skills, and having someone with dyslexia in your team can be really advantageous.

I didn’t achieve as much as I could have done at school because I didn’t have the right support in place. I did have a very supportive maths teacher who recognised my practical skills and put me in charge of the tuck shop. I now realise that she was giving me a practical maths lesson and for me, this was a much better way to learn. When I went on to study nursing, I enjoyed my placements the most and have always had strong interpersonal skills.

We are all different and we all have a lot to contribute; we all have our strengths, and we all have things that we find challenging. I know that I am good at listening and at asking questions and that’s how I gather my information. Conversely, I can find lots of reading and blocks of text overwhelming.

Nowadays I make sure I have the right support in place to help me do the things I find hard, surrounding myself with a team who have contrasting strengths which means we all bring something different to the table.

If you think you might be dyslexic, I recommend that you contact a local or national dyslexia association, such as the British Dyslexia Association, for advice. For more information on dyslexia, visit

Dame Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for England.

When I was seven years old, I was diagnosed with dyslexia. I look back and can see how my struggles helped shape who I am.

I went to four different schools and was told I would never amount to anything. When I finished school, I got an apprenticeship in painting and decorating, which I did for three years. I’d failed my GCSE English and Maths and had to keep retaking my exams.

Eight years ago, I decided to go into healthcare. I had been looking after my aunt in a hospice and when people kept mistaking me for a nurse, I realised I’d found something I was good at, so I decided to give it a go.

Often people with dyslexia have very good practical skills, which is ideal for people who want to go into nursing. I did well throughout university and excelled practically but still struggled academically. I worked hard and got help from my mum and my wife to get me through. At the end of my course, I received an award for the most outstanding student which showed me just how far I’d come.

When I qualified, I went straight to work in a hospice, which had been my dream. I have risen up the ranks to become a charge nurse, which I love. I’ve also found my feet outside of work. I have worked with NHS England on a national project to help improve language and communication within all healthcare and have my own podcast for nurses. I did an episode about dyslexia with the Chief Nursing Officer for England, Dame Ruth May, where we both shared our experiences.

These days I try to share my experiences with other people who are struggling in the hope it will help them and have been working with schools to improve understanding and awareness of dyslexia.

The theme for Dyslexia Awareness Week this year is Uniquely You. When I think about what is unique about me, I know that I’m a creative thinker, I have a good long-term memory and I’m able to walk into a room and read situations more quickly than others.

My advice for people with dyslexia is to use the support and resources that are available to you. The British Dyslexia Association is good, and there is also information you can access on the website.

Anthony Swan, IPU Charge Nurse, St Catherine’s Hospice Preston. 

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.

Anthony Swan and Dame Ruth May.

Anthony is inpatient unit (IPU) Charge Nurse at St Catherine’s Hospice Preston.