My job

The challenges and benefits of working as a nurse director in learning disabilities

Hazel Powell tells all about working in a new service, in a new country

What is your job? 

As nurse director I lead nursing strategy and the approach to care and nursing standards in the mental health and learning disabilities service delivery unit for Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board.


Hazel Powell Photo: PD

Why did you become a nurse? 

To be honest I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be, but my mum worked as a nursing assistant at Dingleton Hospital in the Scottish Borders. I started there as an activity assistant in older people’s services and loved it, so I decided to do my mental health nurse training.

After working in mental health, I got a job on the learning disability ward and loved the diversity of working with people with learning disabilities, so I did a learning disability conversion course.

I have had a varied career in mental health, learning disability assessment and treatment, community services, education, and in national roles for the Scottish government and NHS Education for Scotland. 

Where did you train? 

Dingleton Hospital for my mental health nursing, then at Borders College in Galashiels for my learning disability nursing.

What do you enjoy most about your job? 

I started in February, and I am enjoying the challenge of a new role in a new service and a new country. My favourite part is doing a weekly walkabout with the medical director and service director. I learn so much through meeting patients and frontline staff.

How and where have you developed your leadership skills?

In lots of different ways. I have studied leadership at different stages throughout my career and as part of my MSc, but equally as important has been watching and learning from others. I have really valued coaching throughout my career – I find reflecting on situations very helpful in terms of learning and development.

How does your current job make use of these?

In so many ways; this job requires the ability to communicate in a wide range of different ways and to take complex issues, tease these out and come up with solutions that are workable. You also need to be able to work with a wide range of people to shape a vision and then take people with you along the path.

What is the greatest challenge? 

Managing multiple demands and finding my way around in my new job – I get lost even with a satnav – and pronouncing all the Welsh place names.

What would you change if you could? 

Society’s attitudes to people with a learning disability and mental health problems. For myself, I would like the energy of my youngest daughter.

What inspires you? 

Seeing people achieve things that they never thought would be possible.

What achievement makes you most proud? 

Being involved in Strengthening the Commitment (the 2012 report of the Modernising Learning Disabilities Nursing Review by the UK’s four chief nursing officers) and now being able to put this into action through empowering others and leading through change.

What makes a good nurse leader?

First of all, an ability to make and retain good relationships with a wide range of people. Alongside this, an ability to listen and identify themes, issues and assets, and make decisions based on what is best for patients first and staff a close second. You need to be able to grasp complexity, make decisions for the right reasons and have tenacity and resilience.

What advice would you like to pass on to students and junior staff? 

Never stop listening and learning, especially from the people you care for and their families. Always be proud of your profession and see the potential to make positive change. Be creative and encourage and support others.

Hazel Powell is nurse director at the mental health and learning disability delivery unit, Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board, South Wales. 

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