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Nightingale Challenge Blog: ‘Putting Compassion and Care at the Heart of All We Do’.

17th June 2021

My Reflections as a Participant on the Nightingale Challenge Northern Ireland Global Leadership Development Programme: ‘Putting Compassion and Care at the Heart of All We Do’.

Emma J Ross, Family Nurse Partnership Supervisor.

My name is Emma Ross and I am a Registered Nurse and Midwife. I completed a Diploma in Adult Nursing at Queens University, Belfast in 2006 and went on to obtain a BSc Hons. Midwifery via the University of Salford. After successfully qualifying as a midwife, I took up a post in research. These early work experiences stimulated my interest in using evidence to underpin clinical practice and my desire to be a role-model demonstrating compassionate leadership in everything I do. Against this background I am writing this blog to share my learning experiences and to demonstrate just how important I feel compassionate and collective leadership is in supporting young nurses and midwives as emerging leaders and change agents to make a real difference across health and social care systems, both locally and globally.

In 2012 I successfully applied for a newly created transformational role in Belfast Trust. Northern Ireland first commissioned the Family Nursing Partnership (FNP) in 2009 within the Western Health and Social Care Trust where I had previously worked as a Family Nurse for two years. In 2012, FNP was expanded into Belfast Trust. As a result of this expansion, I applied and was successful in getting the role to lead and manage the service. Since being the second FNP established in Belfast, the success of the FNP approach has resulted in further expansion, so that now all five Health and Social Care Trusts across Northern Ireland now have a FNP team delivering on this high-quality programme of care for first-time young mothers and their babies. I continue to lead the service and have the privilege daily of working with an exceptional team who are highly skilled and a leading example and role-model of compassionate and high-quality nursing and midwifery in action.

Northern Ireland has a transformational strategy entitled ‘Health and Wellbeing 2026 delivering together’ ( This ambitious plan has a clear road map, with the focus based on evidenced-based early intervention and prevention. The overall aim is to give every child the best start in life. FNP is an integral and vital part of delivering this aim.

Right from the inception of FNP in Belfast Trust I have worked hard as a young nurse leader to create a culture of compassion and empathy, where staff feel valued and recognised as individuals contributing to an exceptional nursing and midwifery service. Through ongoing feedback and continually evolving improvement strategies, my highly skilled team of colleagues have been able to regularly report feeling happy and satisfied at work, feeling valued, nurtured and a genuine feeling of being led with compassion through collective and compassionate leadership. I am very proud of the difference they are making to the outcomes for young mothers and their families.

Against this background, 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) along with 27 Global Associates from many countries across the world. I was particularly looking forward to consolidating my knowledge and skills as a leader working in a complex and sensitive service so that I could make a real difference to the young families I work with. I believe I am a passionate nursing/midwifery leader and have very strong core beliefs on what I consider makes a compassionate leader.

As part of the NCNI GLDP I have had the opportunity to complete a 360 degree NHS Leadership Model Assessment, which I found really useful and interesting. I have completed IHI quality improvement modules and an e-learning Primer Certificate on the United Nations Global Sustainable Development Goals. I have found all this content very informative and enriching towards my own progression as a leader in health and social care. I have really enjoyed hearing from some of our senior healthcare leaders from within Northern Ireland and also the global leaders who took the time to meet with us and to share their valuable insight, experience, knowledge and teachings. It has been enlightening to find out how nursing and midwifery is evolving across so many different countries around the world and particularly the issues and struggles we share, to differing degrees.

Emma and colleagues

I am really enjoying my time on the NCNI GLDP and would highly recommend anyone who has the opportunity to participate on something like this, to grasp it! I have completed many courses, leadership workshops etc. and can honestly say this has been an exceptional experience with so many amazing contributions from nursing and midwifery leaders, academics, policymakers and others across the globe! For me, being part of the NCNI GLDP has further ignited my passion for compassionate leadership, striving to create a compassionate, trauma-informed culture and being a nursing leader who continues to prioritise staff well-being.

We have all faced our own personal and collective challenges over the past year with the impact of Covid-19. As a health and social care workforce we really do need to prioritise creating space for reflection and to be able to process this in order to move forward from it. The anticipated emotional aftermath of Covid-19 is something that is well documented and therefore needs our attention in order to care for and support our staff and each other. I recognise and embrace the movement (within Belfast Trust and regionally) towards focusing on staff wellbeing. Thinking in particular of the emotional impact of Covid-19 and the continued exposure to trauma that may affect us mentally and emotionally, I believe there must be recognition that none of us are exempt from this and we should all be proactive in initiating practices to mitigate against any negative personal longer-term impact on us as a workforce.

I am using my opportunity as a participant on the NCNI GLDP to further explore theories and how as an influential young leader to get them into practice around health and social care staff wellbeing. My quality improvement project as part of the NCNI GLDP aimed to engage and improve upon trauma-informed practice, to further develop a compassionate leadership approach amongst our workforce and in doing so, to improve the emotional health and wellbeing of the staff within my service area, subsequently leading to improvements in service user experience. My findings so far are positive and will be shared as part of my completion of the NCNI GLDP.

As a final reflection I would like to reiterate that whilst our patients/clients must of course be at the centre of everything we do (wherever we are in the world), staff are a valuable and highly skilled resource who are essential to the delivery of the high-quality care and the improved health outcomes we strive to achieve. If we are to play our part in achieving global goals, such as the Sustainable Development Goals and Universal Health Coverage (leaving no-one behind) then we must continue to nurture, value and appropriately equip nurses, midwives and every member of the health and care workforce so they can achieve the best outcomes from the roles they do. The Health and care workforce must feel valued, and be invested in, in order to positively impact on the many demands of health and social care in Northern Ireland and all around the world.