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Blog: My Reflections on the Nightingale Challenge, Northern Ireland Global Leadership Development Programme

13th May 2021

My Reflections on the Nightingale Challenge, Northern Ireland Global Leadership Development Programme; making the very most of every opportunity.

Michelle McCollum, Infant Feeding Practitioner.

I was delighted to be selected in late 2019 to join a cohort of thirty young nursing and midwifery leaders from across Northern Ireland to participate in the Nightingale Challenge Northern Ireland Global Leadership Development Programme (NCNI GLDP), launched in January 2020 alongside the 2020 International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife. I was particularly looking forward to the structured learning over the 12 months, including completing the e-learning quality improvement modules as I knew very little about this at the outset. In addition, the opportunity to network with colleagues from across Northern Ireland and all around the globe was very exciting.

I qualified with a degree in Adult Nursing from Queens University Belfast in 2013.  As a newly qualified nurse I Initially secured a contract at Antrim Area Hospital where I gained some experience working in acute medicine. I then moved to the Royal Victoria Hospital where I worked for five years in Trauma and Orthopaedics. Whilst on a period of maternity leave, I took the opportunity to evaluate the direction I wanted my career to take and applied and was successful in gaining a role as a Public Health Nurse in Children’s Community Services. The model of care in Northern Ireland for children and their families is informed by the strategy ‘Healthy Child, Healthy Future’ focusing on children from birth to 4 years. Public Health Nurses undertake a range of responsibilities, including childhood vaccinations which involves multiple clinics a week in primary care, and child health reviews for children aged 6 to 9 months. Both through personal experience with my young family and my public health role, I have a passion for promoting breastfeeding and supporting mums with this, but more about that later!

The opportunity to participate in the NCNI GLDP was very timely for me personally. The challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic were surfacing but travel and movement was not yet restricted. In January 2020 we commenced the NCNI GLDP aimed particularly at improving leadership skills, policymaking, advocacy and our understanding of global health. I was also one of four participants nominated to travel to London in March 2020 to attend the Commonwealth Nurses and Midwives Confederation Conference. At this conference we had opportunity to meet Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Executive of the UK Nursing and Midwifery Council, and network with other senior healthcare professionals from across the world. We also had an very privileged and informative afternoon in the UK Houses of Parliament with Lord Nigel Crisp (Co-chair of the Nursing Now campaign) and visits to the Royal College of Nursing and the Florence Nightingale museum. As part of our delegation, we had other young nurse leaders with us – Winnie from Uganda, Billy from the USA and Abdul from Pakistan.  We were accompanied by Professor Charlotte McArdle and Dr Catherine Hannaway – an experience I will remember, reflect on and value long into my career.

As a group of young nursing and midwifery leaders on the NCNI GLDP we were fortunate to have two face-to-face workshops (in January and March 2020) before we were forced to link virtually via Zoom, email and social media, due to Covid-19 restrictions. During each workshop I was encouraged and motivated by the role-modelling of the leaders who contributed as speakers such as Charlotte McArdle (Chief Nursing Officer, for NI), Mary Frances McManus (Director of Nursing Public Health, NI) Howard Catton (CEO, ICN) and Dr Catherine Hannaway (Global Health Consultant). Much of our theoretical learning was by e-learning modules and I managed to complete four Quality Improvement modules facilitated by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI, USA). I particularly enjoyed these modules and was keen to apply the learning in my area of work. I was also able to complete the United Nations ‘Primer Certificate on the Sustainable Development Goals’, something I would never have even thought of doing had it not been for this programme.

During the NCNI GLDP I had opportunity to undertake the NHS 360° Leadership Appraisal, with Dr Catherine Hannaway as my facilitator. I knew very little about it beforehand but was glad to have had the learning from it. In particular it helped me reflect on the fact that I had already been a leader in my various roles even though I didn’t have a management position. It showed me how to be more confident and gave me a boost to believe in my own abilities and how I really can influence positive change as a young nurse leader.

The NCNI GLDP has continued online with workshops and personal support.  We began to form partnerships and a wider network with other young nurses and midwives from across the world (known as our Global Associates). I have recently been working on a ‘60-day Challenge’ with Claire Hannity (Southern HSC Trust, Northern Ireland) and Zipporah Iregi (Kenya). I have also had the opportunity to undertake an improvement project using the QI methodologies and learning from the IHI Quality Improvement modules. I undertook ‘phase one’ of ‘testing the concept of an online skill-mix referral system’ in support of the ‘6 to 9 months old child review process’. This needed to be adapted due to the constraints of Covid-19 and the overall aim to utilise the skills of the team more effectively. Phase one is now complete and a handover report has been produced, leading to additional testing and scaling-up across the entire Health Visiting Service in the Belfast HSC Trust. I will also be developing a poster slide presentation for the end of NCNI GLDP to share the learning more widely.

I was fortunate to benefit from two opportunities to co-present virtually with Dr Catherine Hannaway; initially at the Uganda Health Care Conference and more recently at a Royal College of Nursing Northern Ireland webinar. These experiences were invaluable in my leadership journey, particularly as a way of building my own confidence and skills and something I never imagined being a part of.

I promised to come back to my passion for breastfeeding so I will!  While undertaking the programme, an opportunity emerged for a change of role which was both a promotion and in an area I am passionate about.  The Belfast HSCT were advertising for the position of Infant Feeding Practitioner and without the learning from the NCNI GLDP programme I would not have had the confidence to consider applying for such a role, or even to be as open to a new opportunity. Some of the competences required from the programme helped me demonstrate that I met three essential criteria of the job description. The NCNI GLDP had also given me the insight and confidence to seek advice, knowledge and support from others more experienced as I looked to prepare for applying for the post.  I was absolutely delighted to be offered the role which I accepted, and I commenced post in early April 2021. My new responsibilities include being an advocate for breastfeeding, co-ordinating the breastfeeding peer support service and providing specialist breastfeeding support to mums.

Covid-19 has impacted on me as an individual and as a young mum. Finding myself pregnant in the middle of a global pandemic has been challenging as I was preparing to be re-deployed to help other nursing colleagues on the frontline, potentially being one of the first to administer the new Covid-19 vaccine to reduce the spread of this awful disease. Given the risks in pregnancy I was not permitted to do this. However, my mentor (that I was encouraged to have through the NCNI GLDP programme) helped me to see that I still had an important role in keeping young children and their families well during the pandemic, especially in continuing to facilitate and promote uptake of the UK Childhood Immunisation Schedule. I also needed to be personally more resilient in lone working, and also as mums bringing their young babies into clinic for immunisation needed more emotional support given the restrictions of Covid-19 and isolation at home during lockdown. In terms of organisational and team support I was able to access resources provided by the BHSCT as well as extra team debrief sessions which were a great release to discuss the day-to-day work events, including how we were all feeling and coping. Likewise, on the NCNI GLDP programme there were regular opportunities to check in at the virtual Workshops to see that everyone was ok. It was also made clear that it was ‘ok not to be ok’ and additional support was available.

On reflection, I am so thankful for the opportunity to actively participate in the NCNI GLDP programme. I am excited to be beginning a new senior role that will allow me to utilise my experience as a Public Health Nurse and my passion for promoting breastfeeding. It will also provide the ideal platform for me to apply all my learning from the NCNI GLDP and most importantly make a real difference to the lives of mums and their newborn babies.

The Commonwealth Nurses & Midwives Confederation Conference, London, March 2020.

Attending The Commonwealth Nurses & Midwives Confederation Conference, London, March 2020.