Career advice

Keep it in the family

Ruth May is one of the UK's most senior nurses, but she’s most proud of her work on relieving pressure ulcers

Picture credit: Mark Hakansson

Ruth May is executive nursing director at NHS Improvement

Why did you become a nurse?

Because my mother told me to! She was a nurse, as was my aunt. In fact, my mum only left nursing to get married and have me. I did some voluntary work at a nursing home in Pontypool, which, other than the smell of talc, I found really enjoyable, so I decided I’d like to do more of it and have never regretted it.

What might you have done otherwise?

I was going to become a chef.

How and where have you developed your leadership skills?

Most of them have been developed on the job, including some great mentorships from people I have worked for. I’ve also done some excellent courses, including the Florence Nightingale Scholarship.

How does your new job make use of these?

I’m able to bring my front line nurse leadership skills and experience to the organisation’s top table, ensuring our work and decisions are always in the best interests of patients and NHS staff.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I’m enjoying the opportunities we have, including prioritising our work between now and 2020. Plus, meeting chief nurses, their deputies and staff – all of whom have given me plenty to think and act on.

My priorities over the next five years are staffing, reducing falls, and supporting talent management and aspiring directors of nursing

What is your greatest challenge and how have you overcome it?

Dealing with the volume of emails. Last week I got 155 in one afternoon.

Where would you like to be in five years’ time?

My priorities over the next five years are staffing, reducing falls, and supporting talent management and aspiring directors of nursing. I also want to carry on my pressure ulcers work.

What or who inspires you, and why?

All nurses. The compassion, professionalism and dedication shown daily is an inspiration.

Professionally speaking, what has given you most satisfaction?

My work on the Stop the Pressure campaign to help prevent pressure ulcers; in particular, the great work nursing students have done to support it. I started working on pressure ulcer prevention in 2011 when I was regional chief nurse for NHS Midlands and East, which launched the campaign. Via our website, we’ve developed lots of materials on preventing pressure ulcers and their recurrence, with an emphasis on practical steps like making sure patients are on the right surface. Even if I say so myself, we’ve come on in leaps and bounds.

What achievement makes you most proud?

My daughter Lucie, who is five going on 15.

Outside work what do you enjoy doing?

Having fun with Lucie, going for walks with my dog, watching the film Grease – it always makes me laugh – and reading Hello! because I love a good gossip.

What makes a good nurse leader?

The five key things are: self-awareness and an understanding of how others perceive you; compassion for your team and yourself; the ability to keep the patient at the centre of everything you do; having a clear vision of what you want to achieve; and, above all, resilience.

What advice would you give a newly-registered nurse?

I would say the top three things are: keep the patient at the centre of everything you do, work collaboratively and remember to enjoy yourself.

Which issues are likely to affect nurse leaders most over the next 12 months?

Making sure the service has the right staff with the right skills to provide patients with quality care, supporting excellence in the NHS and delivering a vision that focuses on tomorrow’s workforce.

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