Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu has collected an honorary doctorate from Birmingham City University in recognition of her major contribution to the profession.
“I’ve got lots of reasons to be proud of receiving this award”
Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu
Former nurse and health visitor Professor Anionwu ran the first UK nurse-led sickle cell and thalassaemia counselling service and helped set up the Mary Seacole Statue Appeal, which culminated in the unveiling of a statue in her honour in 2016.
During a speech at the graduation ceremony, she told graduands to make the most of their talents in their future careers and advised them to “always be confident” about their strengths and weaknesses.
On collecting her honour, Professor Anionwu, also paid tribute to Birmingham’s healthcare services, which made a major difference to the life of one of her cousins with sickle cell.
She said: “I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of the healthcare professionals in Birmingham who provided my cousin with a much better quality of life, that I’m afraid sometimes individuals with the condition did not have during that era.
“So, it’s a huge thank you to you,” she told graduates from the university’s faculty of health, education and life sciences.
Professor Anionwu’s career has also seen her work as a senior lecturer at the institute of child health at the University College London, before being appointed dean of the school of adult nursing studies and a Professor of Nursing at University of West London.
In 2017, she was named Dame Commander of the British Empire in recognition of her work.
During her address, Professor Anionwu also thanked Birmingham City University’s chancellor Sir Lenny Henry for being a champion for improving care for those with sickle cell, having been a longstanding patron of the Sickle Cell Society.
She said: “One of the areas that I became involved in was sickle cell and I’d like to take this opportunity as one of the patrons of the Sickle Cell Society to acknowledge the support of your chancellor Sir Lenny Henry who is also a patron of the Sickle Cell Society.
Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu and Sir Lenny Henry
“This year is the 40th anniversary of the Sickle Cell Society and Sir Lenny Henry provided his support before this condition was as well-known as it is today, before we had lots more celebrities supporting us and before he was ‘Sir’,” said Professor Anionwu.
At the ceremony held at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, Professor Anionwu also discussed how she had overcome challenges in her life, including a difficult childhood which saw her physically abused by her step-father and spend much of her formative years being cared for by nuns.
“I’ve got lots of reasons to be proud of receiving this award but the one I want to mention is I was born in Birmingham,” she told graduands.
“On the front cover of my memoirs is a photograph of me aged nine months sitting on my mother’s knee in front of the children’s home where I spent nine years,” she added.
“Many people have asked ‘in view of the difficult circumstances that you’ve started out in life, how come you’ve achieved so much?’ And I’d say that the achievements have not just been professionally but in family life as well,” said Professor Anionwu.
She then went on to share ideas with the future health professionals as they get ready to begin their careers.
“So, I’d like to share some ideas with you as you start out in your careers as to whatever challenges you have faced, are facing, will face,” she said. “I think there are some reasons why many of us survive those challenges.”
“Be aware of who supports you, of who’s looking out for you,” said Professor Anionwu. “And it may not necessarily be the people that you expect, so we mustn’t stereotype the type of people we think will support us or won’t support us.”
Professor Anionwu closed her speech by offering advice to graduates on making the most of their talents in their future careers.
She said: “Always be confident about both your strengths and weaknesses.
“There’s often solutions to our problems, and to the differences that we may have which may pose barriers,” she said.