Ruth Northway, professor of learning disability nursing at the University of South Wales, was speaking at the 2019 Student Nursing Times Awards at the Grosvenor House Hotel on Park Lane.
“There are many reasons to be positive about the future and the potential of nurses to respond to those challenges”
Professor Northway, who was part of the judging panel for the Student Nurse of the Year: Learning Disability category, won the Chief Nursing Officers’ Lifetime Achievement award at the Nursing Times Awards last year.
While congratulating those shortlisted for an award, Professor Northway told students to think about how to “build on the achievements” they were celebrating at the awards, to help ensure they provide the best nursing care and support possible.
She also highlighted that as part of her day job at the University of South Wales, she was “regularly inspired by student nurses who demonstrate dedication and innovation”.
She told attendees of the awards on Friday that it was one of the hardest things she has had to do, but also a highlight of her year so far.
“I was so impressed by the creativity, commitment and professionalism demonstrated by each of the nominees,” said Professor Northway.
“Most importantly however, what struck me was the way in which each of them had in their own way identified and responded to the needs of those they were supporting,” she said.
“It takes someone to actually identify the need for change, to think creatively, and to actually translate that thinking into action,” said Professor Northway.
“Those qualities were present in abundance in the student nurses I saw and I’m sure probably those comments would be echoed by judges in the many categories today,” she noted.
“Take some time to think about how you’re going to build on the achievements you’re celebrating”
The nursing professor then went on to speak to students about their future in the profession.
She said: “Whilst today is about celebrating present achievements I hope it also prompts us to look towards the future.”
Professor Northway flagged some of the challenges that nursing, and the wider healthcare system, was currently facing.
“Look at the achievements we’re celebrating today,” she said. “There are many reasons to be positive about the future and the potential of nurses to respond to those challenges.”
Speaking to the students present, she said: “Take some time to think about how you’re going to build on the achievements you’re celebrating to ensure that those that we work with, alongside and for, are able to receive the best nursing care and support possible. Continue to think critically and creatively.”
In addition, Professor Northway highlighted her own career in learning disability nursing.
She noted that when she first started her nurse training, 40 years ago, she wasn’t certain that she would have a future career in nursing.
“However, this year we’re celebrating 100 years of learning disability nursing,” she said.
“It goes to show the times we don’t know where our careers are going to lead, and we don’t know what opportunities are going to be there,” said Professor Northway.
She went on to highlight that since her training a lot had changed in nursing practice and nurse education, describing the change in her field as “immense”. As part of this she noted the move from long-stay hospitals to community-based support.
“Learning disability nurses are now working in a really diverse range of settings,” she added.
“In all fields of nursing, similar developments have occurred,” said Professor Northway. “Essential to those changes, is a continued ability of nurses and nursing to learn, adapt, innovate and grow.”
“You are all part of the collective leadership, the collective voice, of nurses and midwives”
The annual Student Nursing Times Awards were held during an afternoon ceremony, which celebrated over 170 shortlisted students and educators across 21 categories.
At the event, now in its eight year, England’s chief nursing officer, Dr Ruth May, also gave a short speech to attendees after first introducing herself using sign language, which she said she was currently learning.
Dr May used her speech to highlight her three priorities as the new CNO for England, a post that she took up in January.
“The first [priority] is around workforce and about how we fill the gaps in nurses, midwives and care workers,” she said.
“The second is about celebrating the pride of our profession and this is exactly what we’re doing here today,” she noted.
“And my third priority is #teamCNO. You are all part of the collective leadership, the collective voice, of nurses and midwives,” she added.
The Student Nursing Times Awards will return in 2020 and are the only awards recognising student nurses and nurse education.