Kingston University’s School of Nursing welcomes new leadership team

 Two highly respected nurses with more than 70 years’ combined experience across the profession and nursing education have been appointed to lead Kingston University’s School of Nursing.

Professor Claire Thurgate and Dr Andrea Cockett, who both specialise in children’s nursing and join from senior academic roles at Canterbury Christ Church University and King’s College London respectively, have been named the school’s Head and Deputy Head. They will be replacing Dr Julia Gale, who has been head of school since 2009, and Karen Elcock, who was in the deputy role for 11 years – both of whom are retiring this academic year.

After qualifying as a dual children and adult nurse in the mid-1980s, Professor Thurgate began her career at Great Ormond Street Hospital before working in several acute wards at East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust, later setting up respite services for children with complex health needs. She entered higher education when she took up a children’s lecturer post at Canterbury Christ Church University, moving up to become Head of the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work.

Professor Thurgate

In that role, Professor Thurgate worked with employers to develop courses that met the needs of the workforce and also established a centre for workplace learning and continuing development – something she is particularly passionate about and wants to bring to Kingston. “Higher education has given us the ability to influence nursing from a different perspective and drive forward where we want to go as a profession. I want to build on the workforce development we have and, working alongside our employers, placement providers and chief nurses, ensure they have the workforce they need for South West London,” she said.

Dr Cockett, who is a Doctor of Education, is returning to Kingston University having started her teaching career at the institution between 1995 and 1999. During this period she ran the University’s children’s intensive care course while also working in practice at the children’s intensive care unit at St George’s Hospital in Tooting. The experienced nursing educator took up a position in children’s palliative care at a hospice before moving back into higher education, holding various posts at King’s College London, including Head of Department for Children’s Nursing and, later, Associate Dean for Assessment and Teaching.

With her doctorate focusing on nursing students’ experiences of assessment and feedback in higher education, Dr Cockett has a keen focus on how best to support students to be successful. “What most interests me is understanding how to give students the skills and tools they need to flourish in their careers, and then ensuring the nursing curricula provides that. I really want to help students professionally as well as academically, and really learn what it is to be a nurse and the professional landscape they are working in,” she said.

Both academics said they followed careers into nursing to help children and families become autonomous and make decisions about the care they receive so they feel like they have more control over what’s happening to them. “I love enabling children and families to achieve what they want and giving them the confidence to develop their skills. It’s all about working with them to understand the support they need to get through any difficult experiences they may be going through,” Professor Thurgate said.

A strong family history of nursing was also a key driver for Dr Cockett to enter the profession. “My grandmother initially qualified as a fever nurse, a role that don’t exist anymore, and then went on to become a general nurse and midwife while my aunt also went into nursing, so there’s a strong tradition in my family and it felt like a natural career for me.”

The latest Guardian University Guide rated Kingston as number one in London for nursing and midwifery and this was one of the key drivers in attracting Professor Thurgate and Dr Cockett to the University. “Kingston has a great reputation for nursing – my sister lives locally and spoke so highly of the University. I was also attracted by the incredibly diverse student body here and how we enable our global community to succeed,” Professor Thurgate said.

Dr Cockett, who has lived in the local area for almost 30 years, was excited to see her career come full circle after beginning her teaching career at Kingston in the late 1990s. “Some of the staff in the school remember me from before and that really is quite lovely. It’s also fantastic we have a physical School of Nursing building, which a lot of universities don’t have, with incredible simulation and clinical skills suites that really enhance our students’ learning. We have a strong tradition here and it’s important to celebrate and contribute to it,” she said.

Professor Thurgate wants to allow staff and students space to express themselves following a challenging period through the Covid-19 pandemic. ”It’s been a stressful time and I want to support our staff and students as we build on the success of the school. Our student body needs to represent the people they’re looking after and caring for – it’s about playing your part in the local area as a civic university is heavily involved in the community and our student nurses are an important part of that,” she said.