As he comes to the end of his term as School President for the School of Health Sciences, nursing student Brian Webster reflects on his time in the role.
I started in the University of Dundee’s School of Health Sciences just as all my cohort did, but something we do within the University is encourage and promote students to engage and contribute to representing their peers, through the representation system. The role of Class Representative is suggested fairly early on in your degree, within the first 6 – 8 weeks. I remember thinking, ‘yea I will give that a go’, and I think that comes from my natural outwardness and this quality I have which I call ‘constructive disruptiveness’. It’s about being disruptive, not just for the sake of it, but to bring about positive change. I soon went from Class Representative to the Vice President of Adult Nursing and then applied to be School President in 2nd year. Straight away I doubted the likelihood of winning, or even being voted for, as I ran against three great third years. Yet I somehow won, with 3x more votes than all the other candidates.
Being a nursing student is challenging. We have a shorter course in the length of years, but a longer academic calendar each year. We have to complete a 50/50 model of education, 50% theory, 50% clinical practice, and adjusting to clinical placement can be hard on students physically, mentally and socially. Everyone experiences this differently – some thrive, some struggle. I think it’s therefore safe to say it’s also a hard School/course to represent, which I am sure my colleagues in DUSA would agree, with several of our nursing students regularly reaching out to their services as well as the wider university services.
We are a school that is not independent, and due to being a course that is professionally regulated, it can feel challenging and difficult to make change. But you absolutely can and I definitely have in my time as the School President over the last 18 months or so. We have seen an abundance of changes in healthcare in the last 6 months, some positive, some negative, and some once in a lifetime changes. Something I feel is key to approaching change is to remember some of the changes in healthcare, and other industries, that are thanks to totally different, alternative professions. We have learnt massive lessons in healthcare from aviation about human factors, from NASA about healthcare and workforce planning, and from formula 1 on the importance of being safety-critical.
I point this out because some of the best advice and coaching I have had has been from the staff in the School and wider university, such as Erica Russell-Hensens, our Director of Quality and Academic Standards, as well as Dr Katerina Kolova, the Council of Deans of Health’s Executive Director, both of whom are not nurses. Learning about leadership from experts in other fields has been a massive contribution to my leadership journey as the School President of the School of Health Sciences. You can read a blog on leadership Erica wrote for me for a project I am running here.
It’s thanks to this role that I had the confidence to apply for the 150 Leaders course on the Student Leadership Programme, run by the Council of Deans of Health. If I had not been the School President, it would never have occurred to me I had the skills and qualities, let alone courage, to apply for a UK wide leadership programme. Again, through this role, I have made some amazing connections and friendships with people who I might never have come across if I had not put myself out my comfort zone.
On the topic of leadership, I often talk to nursing students, and even registered nurses, who don’t think they have the skills and abilities to see themselves as leaders. At the last Student Staff Liasion Committee, I chaired as School President and I explained to all the students representatives present that they are not leaders because they are representatives, they are representatives because they are leaders. They already have the skills, qualities, and no doubt unconscious experience, shown in being elected as a representative through their passion, commitment and dedication to their class, peers and the wider student body. This is the same in registered nurses, with patients, fellow staff, students and even other professions looking and seeking guidance and leadership from nurses. You can read more about my views on leadership here as well as some others here.
I went onto explain to my fellow student representatives, “Something you might not realise is that the changes you make now, no matter how small seeming or insignificant, will have an impact on the present, but also the future. The nurses coming behind us will benefit from the change you made several years previous and might even make them better nurses or better people”. I really wanted to make students realise that they can lead, they are leading, and they are making positive change. In my time as School President, I have found it imperative to appreciate that every single one of us, staff and students, are different. Unique. We will have similarities, but the level of diversity can only be a good thing. People’s personalities can clash, others can bond, but we all have a wealth to learn from one another. I guess my message is to be inclusive, but how can you be inclusive? One of the amazing speakers I have had the change to meet via the 150 Leaders Programme is Dr Stacy Johnson MBE, who talks greatly about inclusive and transformative leadership. Stacy shared this amazing infographic and I want to share it with you now for you all to reflect on in your own time.
Nursing is a massive body of professionals and so is nursing education in the form of students. There are over 1,000 nursing students in this School alone. While it’s important to collate the collective voice, it’s also important to remember it will never be one shoe fits all. This can be challenging to accept. You can’t get it right for everyone, you won’t get it right for everyone, but don’t let that put you off giving it your best shot. Remember though, what is routine for us and you as students might be unknown to policymakers, so your voice is vital. On that note, I want to share a very short video, about taking action, optimism and avoiding cynicism, which again is thanks to Stacy Johnson who shared this at one of her talks. Please do read between the lines of this video.
Winning an election and obtaining the position of School President also grants one a seat on the Student Representation Council (SRC), one of the oldest councils in the University. This is a council made up of students and staff from DUSA and the University. It has been such a great experience and exposure. We got to meet some of the most inspirational fellow students and encouraging and advocating senior members of staff. The SRC was one part of the role I am in awe off, as it lets you network with some amazing individuals throughout the University. I had a great time sharing and collaborating with other School Presidents within Dentistry, Medicine, Social Sciences and Education.
I somehow went on to win SRC Councillor of the year 2020, an absolute shock and surprise given my fellow runner up was the Mature Students Representative and had some amazing achievements under their belt. From the SRC and some other committees, such as the Scholl Presidents Forum, it became clear to me that the senior staff of the University, such as Prof Blair Grub and Erica Russell-Hennsens, want to engage with and hear from students. They would attend, with others, several of these meetings and committees, providing an opportunity to share and bounce ideas that are important for us, the students. This is also the case at School level, where the student representatives can meet and engage again with senior staff via the SSLC, such as the School manager Jennifer Donachie, who recently celebrated 40 years long service award here at Dundee. Congratulations again Jennifer.
In my time as School President I have had some challenging, exciting, sad, and some outright ridiculous conversations, but I would not change it if I had the chance. I have enjoyed every moment of the rollercoaster of this role, and have been supported from the amazing Dean of the School, Prof Lynn Killbride, who showed me that title is nothing and we are all people, breaking down that hierarchy. I wish the new School President, Carike Barnardo, all the best in the role. Carike has been extremely valuable, standing as one of my Vice Presidents and laterally doing much more with the School than myself due to my ever-growing commitments.
A massive thank you to all the students, staff and others who have supported me, assisted me, helped me develop and grow, and most importantly, challenged me. This role has allowed me to explore myself, my views, opinions, outlook and perceptions. I owe it a wealth. I also owe that to two staff in the School, Iain Rennie, my advisor of studies, who without I would never be where I am now, and Linda Martindale, who has been encouraging and motivational at all points in my term. Without their guidance and counsel I would never have been able to fulfil my time as president.
Brian Webster – 27 October 2020