A nurse who overcame the odds to take up her dream career is being fast-tracked to becoming a leader of the future whilst helping reverse the trend of others quitting her profession.
Rachel James (pictured above), currently Swansea Bay’s lead nurse practitioner for acute oncology, has just become one of the first two nurses ever to be selected for a Welsh Clinical Leadership Training Fellowship with Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW).
As well as developing her leadership skills the year-long programme will see Rachel helping address the crucial issue of nurse retention in Wales.
She said: “Half of it is a masterclass in leadership, trying to develop the brightest leaders of our future, and the other half is working on a project with HEIW, looking at the model of nurse retention across Wales.
“My leadership skills need polishing, and I think this is the ideal way to do it – working with likeminded professionals to champion something.
“It’s really important for nursing to try and figure out why our nurses are going and how we can keep them.
“There are different strategies in place to try and retain nurses such as exit interviews and supporting them to make them feel valued. It will be a matter of assessing those initiatives to see which are the most effective.”
The appointment has fully vindicated Rachel’s decision to make a career change in 2008 to become a nurse. Although she could not have envisaged being so successful, her record speaks for itself.
Not only has she been selected for the fellowship she picked up a Chief Nursing Officer’s Award for Excellence last year.
All this must have been a pipedream when the-then single mother of two made the brave decision to leave the security of being an industrial chemist and retrain as a nurse.
She said: “I came to nursing quite late. I was 33 when I qualified.
“I was an industrial chemist, but I came into nursing to find some personal reward. It’s the best thing I ever did.”
Despite having no regrets her journey was by no means easy.
She said: “I had just got divorced. I had two young children who were three and seven when I started my training. It was really hard going but I’m really pleased I did it. I thoroughly enjoy it every single day.
“There was a cut in pay whilst I did my training but once you have been a nurse for a few years it does come back.”
Rachel initially went into acute medicine and worked in an Emergency Department before going into oncology six years ago.
Last year she won the Chief Nursing Officer’s Award for Excellence, one of just three in Wales.
“It was the most brilliant achievement I have made. I was so delighted to have the CNO meet me and say I was going a great job,” she said.
Rachel is about to take a year-long hiatus from her Swansea Bay role to focus on her leadership skills.
She said: “I applied to the HEIW training leadership fellowship. This is the first year it was open to nurses. Traditionally it’s been for doctors, dentists and ophthalmologists, and allied health professionals.
“I was absolutely flabbergasted, shocked, when I found out I had been successful. I didn’t think I would get it because with oncology I have always been quite clinical and not necessarily focused on leadership.”
Hazel Powell, Deputy Executive Director of Nursing said: “I congratulate Rachel on this achievement, and I look forward to watching her lead and influence nationally the work on nurse retention in Wales.
“I am delighted that the first year this is open to nurses we have a nurse from Swansea Bay joining the programme.”
Sharron Price, Interim Group Nurse Director, said: “I am delighted that Rachel has been chosen to undertake this fellowship.
“This is the first time that nurses have been invited to apply and she will be working with HEIW on nurse retention across Wales, which is such an important project for the nursing profession.
“I am excited to see what this opportunity offers and am extremely proud of Rachel on her achievement.”
Dr Ian Collings, Director of Medic Professional Support and Development at HEIW, welcomed the appointment.
He said: “I am delighted that Rachel is one of two nurses joining our very successful Welsh Clinical Leadership Training Fellowship.
“Since HEIW was established we have worked to further develop the programme, previously for doctors in training, to become a true multi-professional fellowship.
“In addition to nurses and doctors in training we now have pharmacists, AHPs, optometrists and healthcare scientist experiencing this unique opportunity.
“The impact of the fellowship has been astounding with many of our alumni fellows taking on senior NHS leadership roles. I look forward to the programme’s further expansion to other healthcare professionals.”