Kingston University nursing pioneer helping BAME mental health nurses into senior roles awarded National Teaching Fellowship

A nursing expert and inclusivity champion from Kingston University and St George’s University of London has been recognised with a prestigious National Teaching Fellowship after setting up a pioneering programme to help Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic mental health nurses develop the skills and confidence to access more senior roles.

Senior lecturer in clinical leadership and management in Kingston’s School of Nursing, Judith Francois, is one of 56 new National Teaching Fellows announced by higher education charity Advance HE, as part of an initiative celebrating individuals who have made an outstanding impact on student outcomes and the teaching profession in higher education.

Ms Francois spearheads the bespoke five-day Harnessing BAME Mental Health Nurses’ Talent Programme, which was shortlisted for a Royal College of Nursing Institute award last year and offers nurses an opportunity to build leadership skills, explores how cultural backgrounds influence professional development and provides one-to-one coaching.

Course participants also have the opportunity to undertake work-based learning modules provided by the Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education, run jointly by Kingston and St George’s.

The programme, which is part-funded by the Burdett Trust for Nursing and run in conjunction with South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust and South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, was set up to address the under-representation of BAME mental health nurses in senior roles. “As a black woman, I am very aware of the struggles people from BAME backgrounds face in gaining recognition and progressing higher up the ladder, so establishing this programme was an opportunity for me to try and make a difference,” Ms Francois said. “We work with people from across the profession, providing safe, supportive spaces where they can share their lived experiences and are encouraged to recognise and value their own diversity.”

Around 70 people have so far taken part in the programme, with a number of participants going on to secure promotions using skills they learned, and Ms Francois said this success has led to ideas on how to develop the course further. “I’m now working with South West London and St George’s Trust to see how we can improve the experiences of BAME patients in hospitals. We are also looking at how we can make the curriculum within St Georges even more inclusive and ensuring that inclusivity is embedded structurally, which is another focus going forward,” she said.

She has also been recognised by Advance HE for the work she is doing in her role as Associate Dean of Access and Participation at St George’s, where she aims to ensure accessibility and inclusion are at the forefront of curriculum development. An innovative tool for students and nursing staff to empower them to identify the impact of self-resilience within their practice has been developed, while other bespoke activities to understand leadership presence and bring in the realities of the real world and academic experience together have also been created.

Ms Francois said the reflective tool her team have created has helped students understand their actions, develop individual learning needs and contextualise this into practice, while also providing an opportunity for student-led support. “We have helped them unpick their own resilience and this is useful when our student nurses are out on practice. It’s about giving them the tools and confidence to think about how they are feeling about certain situations more in the moment– rather than just reflecting after the event,” she said.

Ms Francois said being awarded a National Teaching Fellowship for her work will lead to further opportunities to grow the programme and the reflective tool.  “I’m really excited, as it means people have looked at what I’m doing and validated it as good practice. Being part of this creative community of people, who have been recognised for some amazing work, could prove to be really important as I will be able to share more about what I’ve been doing and it opens the door to more opportunities in the future,” she said.

Dean of the Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education, Professor Andy Kent, said Ms Francois was richly deserving of the accolade due to her innovative work in helping the BAME community achieve better recognition for their work. “We are delighted Judith’s fantastic programme has seen her recognised nationally by Advance HE. The Harnessing BAME Mental Health Nurses’ Talent Programme helps open the door for nurses who may feel a senior role is out of reach and it’s brilliant to see it having so much success,” he said.