When we talk healthcare workforce we often refer to front line staff in hospital settings. Nurses and midwives work in a variety and breadth of roles and environments from managing a service in the community to leading a university-wide sector role. At the Council of Deans of Health, the membership organisation representing the UK universities delivering education and research for nursing, midwifery and allied health, we believe that it is now the time to reflect on the importance of the entire workforce.
Let’s pick up the nursing and midwifery education and research sector for a moment. The Council of Deans of Health UK have recently conducted a census with our academic institutions resulting in the publication of a report entitled The academic workforce in health faculties – Analysis of the Council’s academic staffing census 2019. Within our report we have noted several key findings; that universities are experiencing difficulties in recruiting to lecturer roles, they are facing challenges in recruiting women and academics from a BAME background into senior roles within the sector, and that there is still a lot more to do to support research and clinical academic career opportunities and funding. In addition, our census found that the education workforce is ageing in a similar way to the wider nursing workforce, meaning more challenges to have the right support for students going forward.
This of course raises a number of pivotal questions: How do we make academic roles more attractive to healthcare staff? How do we offer opportunities and role models from across settings and backgrounds to our future professionals? How can we use students and newly qualified staff as catalysts for motivation and change? These are all questions we wish to discuss with participants at the forthcoming CNO summit in March 2020.
As we all work together towards the #teamCNO objective of collective and distribute leadership, we would also like to share some of our experience of political leadership in universities. Leading healthcare education and research strategies in higher education settings has never been more complex and rewarding at the same time. With constant change in political contexts, stronger devolution agendas and often many (sometimes competing) priorities between healthcare and higher education policy, our sector can often been ‘stuck’ between a rock and a hard place.
In healthcare higher education, pressures come from the uncertainty of education funding and student support, the challenge of meeting a larger number of excellence frameworks to make it to the ‘top’ of university metrics, the importance of maintaining a focus on student experience, wellbeing and support and keeping a good balance between high quality teaching and research. And all this comes in addition to priorities set out in the NHS Long Term Plan and the delivery of a sustainable healthcare workforce for England.
The local versus the global focus is another area of opportunity and concern for universities. While every university that delivers a healthcare programme aspires to have a strong civic role locally to deliver for the NHS and the wider community it belongs, it also at the same time looks to the wider global agenda to expand its knowledge base, spread innovation and build international business partnerships, which in a business model for sustainable universities can often be a pivotal part of sector business plans.
What skills do we need as higher education leaders to navigate through these complex agendas? A strong professional commitment and pride should come in hand with political astuteness, strong business and networking skills and a passion for continuous learning and sharing of innovation. All of which requires to be underpinned by strong partnership working and stakeholder engagement.
We at the Council of Deans of Health are up for this challenge and we look forward to discussing the healthcare academic workforce, its context and leadership at the CNO Summit in March.