Career advice

Leading by learning

Paul Edwards, head of practice development at BUPA, says good leader is 'authentic, inspiring and kind'

Paul Edwards is head of practice development at Bupa UK Care Services, and a newly appointed member of the Nursing Management editorial advisory board. Here, he discusses the attributes of a good leader, how to manage change, how services should meet public expectations and why he embarked on a career nursing older people

What does your role involve?

In my national role as head of practice development at Bupa UK Care Services, I lead a team focusing on all aspects of developing practice. This includes policy, research, practice standards, clinical skills, and practice innovation and change.

Why did you become a nurse?

I joined the airforce as a medic aged 16, and served in a war hospital in the early 1990s. This experience made me focus on what was important, and led to my applying to become a nurse.

What might you have done otherwise?

It would probably have been something to do with music. I am interested in its creation and sound production.

How and where have you developed your leadership skills?

Leadership is as much about learning as it is about leading, and is an ongoing process. I have completed many courses and been lucky enough to work with some excellent leaders from whom I have learned a great deal. Good leaders learn from other people’s experiences, and how they deal with situations. The ability to reflect and think, sometimes at speed, also helps leaders in their roles. A good leader is authentic, inspiring and kind.

How does your job use these skills?

Any changes to practice should be meaningful, and the way to make change happen in the workplace is to help others understand the reasons for it. People have to buy into change if it is to be successful, so you have to be authentic and genuine. I have always tried to lead change in an open and positive way, where people are listened to and included in the decision-making process.

Change can fail for a variety of reasons, but if people do not value or believe in it, its impact will be limited. You have to be sensitive to this when leading change, but also stay focused and positive.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love the diversity of my role, and being able to work with a variety of teams who make a difference to those we support. Being able to lead and affect practice on a large scale is a privilege.

What is the greatest challenge, and how have you overcome it?

The national shortage of nurses is a challenge. The changing roles of nurses, and the expectations of what is required from the profession, can also present difficulties.

How we equip nurses for the future, how we extend the roles of carers, and how services meet the changing expectations of society are crucial issues for me. There aren’t any easy, straightforward solutions, but we are investing in processes, such as continuing professional development and structural changes, to develop our people for the future.

What would you change if you could?

Having built a career in older people’s care, I want to change the narrative about what it is like to care and support this patient group. There is still a perception that nursing older people is not an area of high skill or reward, but I disagree.

I meet brilliant nurses and carers who are skilled, motivated and dedicated to the improvement of health and wellbeing, and I want to see a more positive response to older people from society.

In nursing education, I want to see fairer equity between older people’s nursing and traditional acute care. There is still too little time afforded in pre-registration education to nursing older people, and no substantial post-registration tuition.

What advice would give to a newly-registered nurse?

If you want to effect change, and grow yourself and others, keep an independent mind when considering your first career move. There are many opportunities in older people’s nursing, which is an area of great reward, so don’t listen to those who tell you that working with this patient group is career limiting.

What is likely to affect nurse leaders most over the next 12 months?

They will be working through issues around revalidation, tackling the nursing shortage, and working hard to ensure the delivery of compassionate and safe patient care.

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