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RCN Nurse of the Year: ‘I had no idea how far this award would take me’

Taurai Matare on her first 100 days in the role – and her one-to-one with the prime minister

Taurai Matare reflects on her first 100 days in the role that has put her specialty in the spotlight – and landed her a one-to-one with the prime minister

  • RCN Nurse of the Year title offers opportunities to network with nurses from around the UK and the world
  • Awards ceremony is a special evening, but I never expected to win – now I urge nurses to submit their nominations
  • Presenting at national and international conferences and meeting colleagues is a chance to promote my specialty and my work
Taurai Matare, ophthalmology matron at Whipps Cross Hospital in London and RCN Nurse of the Year 2019, meets prime minister Boris Johnson
Prime minister Boris Johnson’s one-to-one meeting with Ms Matare at her workplace,
Whipps Cross Hospital in London Picture: PA

I didn’t realise what a huge thing it was nationally and internationally to be the RCN Nurse of the Year, but over the past 100 days I’ve been networking with nurses around the UK and the world, and from all specialties.

I met the prime minister when he came to my workplace, Whipps Cross Hospital in London, and I’ve been invited to present my work in England and abroad. All of this has really put the specialty I am so passionate about – ophthalmology – in the spotlight.

More than a glitzy awards ceremony

Winning the award took quite a while to sink in. The day of the awards ceremony in July [2019] was brilliant. I loved the finalists’ briefing before the ceremony, where we all got to know each other. It was a great opportunity to network, exchange numbers and find out what other nurses are up to all around the UK.

‘I thought it would quieten down after the awards night, but it hasn’t... next month I will be presenting at the Australian ophthalmology nursing conference’

The ceremony in London was out of this world. It was fantastic to be sitting on a table with my chief nurse and I was introduced to so many senior nurse leaders that I had heard about but never had a chance to meet.

RCNi Nurse Awards 2020: enter now

My first surprise was when I won the leadership category; I thought, ‘What? Little old me?’. The ceremony culminated with the announcement of the overall winner, chosen from all the category winners. 

Far from expecting to win, I already had my purse on my lap ready to pop back to my room to get ready for the dancing. But, having been an RCN member for 25 years, first I wanted to hear the president speak.

At the end of her speech she announced the winner – when I heard my name, I nearly passed out! It was an amazing night. Even when I returned my room I did not sleep, with all my family texting and calling. 

Taurai Matare, ophthalmology matron at Whipps Cross Hospital in London and RCN Nurse of the Year 2019, with a patient
Ms Matare with a patient. Staff retention and patient satisfaction rates on her unit have
soared under her leadership Picture: Tim George

Networking and sharing my work in the UK and overseas

I thought it would quieten down after that night, but it hasn’t. I was invited to speak at a conference in Leicester and in November I am presenting at two sessions of the Australian ophthalmology nursing conference.

Next year is the global ophthalmology conference in Singapore, where I have also been invited to present. It will offer me the chance to network with nurse leaders from the World Health Organization and link with ophthalmic nurses from around the world.

Here at home, so many hospitals and ophthalmology teams want to visit our unit and see what we do.

‘The recognition this award brings has made so many people interested in working at our unit’

When the prime minister Boris Johnson came to see me, that was something else. We had a one-to-one meeting and I was surprised that he had read all about my work and how I had developed our service, bringing together separate eye casualty, outpatients and theatres to create a single, modern eye treatment centre on one site.

People from as far away as Australia have contacted me to say they have read about me. I never expected my work would be spread around the world – I’ve had to come in to work early some days to beat the time differences to talk to people.

Being the RCN Nurse of the Year has raised my profile at our trust. The chief executive came to see me and I recently met the board chairman after being invited to his Barts Heroes lunch; I was chuffed to be introduced and my achievements announced. Important visitors to the trust are brought to see me and I can show them our unit.

Taurai Matare training ophthalmic technicians on her unit
Ms Matare training ophthalmic technicians on her unit Picture: Tim George

We have a waiting list of people who want to work here

The recognition this award brings has made so many people interested in working here. Our staff retention is so good, no one has left for two years.

That means we don’t have any vacancies in our unit at the moment, but now have a waiting list of people who have phoned to see if there are any roles available, having seen the video that RCNi made about me or read about what we do here.

Healthcare support workers have contacted me asking if we have any ophthalmic technician vacancies, as they have read that they will be developed and valued here and will have a career pathway. Some have offered to work on a voluntary basis to start accessing those development opportunities and be in with a chance if something does become available.

There have been so many drop-ins that the chief executive has suggested we hold an open day so people can come and see what we do.

Raising the profile of my work and passion

We also have patients coming from as far as Southend and Brighton, bypassing so many other hospitals, as they have heard that we are a great unit.

Taurai Matare receiving the Leadership award, alongside RCN deputy president Yvonne Coghill and awards host Kate Garraway
Ms Matare receiving the Leadership
award, with RCN deputy president
Yvonne Coghill and awards host
Kate Garraway Picture: Tim George

So many colleagues have emailed and phoned to congratulate me on flying the flag for ophthalmology. I have loved being able to raise its profile as a nursing career and we have definitely put it right up there in our trust.

Recently I enjoyed my first meeting as a new member of the RCNi editorial advisory board. As a member, I will help shape the content in RCNi’s online and print journals and have already had the chance to meet and connect with nurse colleagues from different disciplines.

I also presented my work at the recent RCNi Nursing Careers and Jobs Fair in London – wow, what a huge event! As well as presenting, it was great for networking and I left having exchanged emails and numbers with so many colleagues. Lots of people wanted to know how they could replicate what I had done.

Experiences I had never imagined

The trust is going to give me the opportunity to do a PhD, something I have always wanted to do.

I became a nurse because my mother was a nurse. Sadly, she has passed away, but I know she would be very proud. My family have been so excited and happy, and so proud – like me, they never dreamed I would achieve something like this.

I would absolutely recommend nurses enter the RCNi Nurse Awards. Submit your nominations  – this title has such great perks! You get to have so many experiences you would never have dreamed of and meet so many people that you would never have done otherwise. For me, it has been life-changing.


Taurai Matare, RCN Nurse of the Year 2019, is a matron at Whipps Cross Hospital in London

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