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The leadership programme that helps you improve care from the front line

A Foundation of Nursing Studies programme nurtures nurse leaders who manage teams but still work in patient-facing roles

A Foundation of Nursing Studies programme nurtures nurse leaders who manage teams but still work in patient-facing roles


Leading edge: FoNS residential workshops are ‘intense and challenging’, but also supportive.

It’s the day after the first residential workshop session for the first cohort of a nurse leaders’ programme – and the participants are buzzing.

The 11 senior nurses from diverse clinical backgrounds and locations have just spent two days embarking on Inspire Improvement, a programme developed by the Foundation of Nursing Studies (FoNS) that encourages participants to dig deep into their own experience and values. It’s fair to say, this process can bring a lot of emotions to the surface.

‘My brain is exploding,’ admits Sian Perry, a senior sister based at the paediatric ambulatory care unit at Withybush General Hospital in Haverfordwest, west Wales. ‘As a group we gelled incredibly quickly; it was intense and challenging emotionally and professionally. It was a different way of looking at leadership. I must admit there were tears, and they were mine – we called it a bit of leakage – but everyone was so supportive that I didn’t feel I’d dropped myself in it. I think a few people had lumps in their throat at times.’

Clinical leaders who can change the culture

The Inspire Improvement programme, which is supported by the Burdett Trust for Nursing, aims to develop a community of FoNS Improvement Fellows – clinical leaders who are skilled in enabling improvement and culture change.

It is pioneering in that it is a national programme – the initial participants are from a variety of locations including the Midlands, Devon, Wales and Scotland – and is aimed at nurses who manage a team, but who still work on the clinical front line.

‘Traditional leadership programmes are aimed at CEOs and senior managers. This is one of the first for nurse leaders’

Jo Odell

‘We want people who have a direct influence on workplace culture,’ explains Jo Odell, a practice development facilitator who leads the programme. ‘If we want to improve patient experience and care, these are the people who can do it. But there is very little at a national level for them in terms of development. Traditional leadership programmes are aimed at CEOs and senior managers. This is one of the first national programmes targeted at nurse leaders.’

The programme is a mix of residential workshops, in three sets of two days, and workplace support, delivered in person by Ms Odell and via other routes such as telephone and email. This mentoring or coaching takes up to six half days, and is individually tailored to each participant’s needs and wishes. ‘It’s critical companionship – I’m with them for their whole journey,’ she says.

Active support from employers

The application process is rigorous and designed to ensure nurses and their organisations get the most out of the programme. Participants need to have explicit support from their line manager and from the chief nurse (or equivalent) in their employer organisation.


Programme lead Jo Odell: ‘I’m with
them for their whole journey’

Unusually, the applicant is interviewed alongside their direct manager to ensure engagement and support. ‘We feel that’s important,’ says Ms Odell, who previously ran the FoNS Patients First programme to support nurse-led innovation in practice. ‘If someone on the programme wants to develop things, they need permission to do that, so it’s important their manager is 100% behind that. Getting the director of nursing or chief nurse to sign it off is important because it means there is strategic support.’

The value of that high-level, strategic support was a lesson learned from previous programmes, she says. ‘What’s new here is that we’re ensuring there’s no mismatch in expectations.’

Ms Perry was drawn to the programme because she was keen to develop her expertise both in leadership and improvement. She manages 20 people at Withybush, and around the same number in units at Glangwili General Hospital in Carmarthen, and in Aberystwyth where she works with other senior sisters in a collaborative management role.

‘I fell into leadership and want to gain confidence’

Having been qualified as a nurse for 30 years, she modestly says she ‘fell into’ leadership and wants to expand her skills. ‘I liked the look of the programme and felt it would help us as a team – it ticked all the boxes,’ she says.

‘I’d like to learn something new and gain a bit of confidence in doing things in a slightly different way – making sure we keep up with changes both in the NHS and in the expectations that children and their families have. The programme seemed to me to offer a kind way of supporting and developing staff, and I believe if you look after staff, then children and their families get a better experience.’

'We have a safe space where it isn’t a problem to say what we’re feeling'

Sian Perry

The programme encourages reflection; the first two-day residential programme provided a space to think about what workplace culture means. Participants have been sent away with two tasks: to work with their team to understand what their workplace culture looks like, and to get feedback on their management style. ‘We’ve given them a range of tools, but it’s up to them what they do,’ says Ms Odell.

There will be two further two-day residential workshop sessions in which the focus will include improvement and action, taking an active learning approach to encourage participants to come up with their own solutions, rather than being spoon-fed them by an educator.

The importance of a cohesive cohort

Each participant is entitled to a bursary of up to £3,000 to help them achieve their goals, whether that involves an away-day for their team to nail down their feelings about workplace culture, or even visits to the workplaces of other participants. This reflects the importance that FoNS places on the cohesion of the cohort, which it hopes will endure.

‘What’s different about this is that we’re building a network of Inspire Improvement Fellows,’ says Ms Odell. ‘We’ll bring them back to meet the next cohort, and, over the years, there will be a growing network of clinical leaders.’

Ms Perry confesses to being quite nervous about the next stage – gauging how her team feels about the workplace culture and, terrifyingly, about her management style. ‘We won’t be doing it in the usual way, such as asking people to fill out a questionnaire,’ she says. ‘I haven’t come back with sheets of paper to fill in. We can use pictures, or cards – or even cake!’

Nevertheless, she is excited about being part of the first cohort, and already feels positive about the future.

‘Jo has been brilliant, keeping us on track and helping us to make that safe space where it isn’t a problem to say what we’re feeling, and giving us permission to be open and to trust,’ she says. ‘I’m really looking forward to the rest of the programme.’

‘Not just another management course’

For Vikki Garrick, the immediate pay-off from taking part in the Inspire Improvement programme has been the opportunity to take a step back and clear her mind.

The paediatric inflammatory bowel disease nurse specialist and GI (gastrointestinal) nurse specialist team lead based at the Royal Hospital for Children, Glasgow wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but is already excited about what lies ahead.

‘The real eye-opener has been the opportunity to lift my head and reflect,’ she says, the day after the first residential part of the programme.

‘It’s been amazing. I’ve never been fortunate enough before to be in a room with people who think like me, and are like me. We connected so quickly – it was fantastic. It felt safe: it was okay to say anything and you didn’t feel daft.’

Ms Garrick was attracted to apply for Inspire Improvement because she felt that unlike other courses, it was aimed at her. ‘The programme looked really interesting. I am a nurse leader because I manage the team, but I’ve never really had any guidance about what to do – I felt I really wanted to expand my skills and expertise.

Benefit of shared experience

‘The beauty of it, for me, is that it’s not a “management” course, it’s a nurse leadership programme. First and foremost that’s what we are, and any skill set has to be built around that and around the values of person-centred care.’

The application process was relatively smooth, she says. Her manager was happy to advocate for her with the chief nurse of her employer, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, which is Scotland’s largest health board, providing healthcare to some 1.2 million people and employing 38,000 staff.

So what does she hope to get out of it? ‘I’d really like to be able to say I had a positive effect on how we work and on our workplace culture,’ she says. ‘It’s important we don’t forget our culture has to be person-centred.’

Sharing experiences with people from different disciplines and places has already been beneficial, not least because ‘we are all facing similar challenges, such as resources and time; we’re facing similar frustrations.’

Ms Garrick is looking forward to the rest of the programme. ‘We set up a WhatsApp group and it’s been red-hot today,’ she laughs. ‘The path ahead isn’t clear, but the goal is, and I can’t wait to see where we go next.’

About the Inspire Improvement programme

  • Lasts 12 months
  • Involves six learning and developing days
  • Key aims include developing fellows’ skills in facilitation; enabling the use of effective strategies for creating person-centred workplace cultures; and promoting continuous improvement
  • There will be workplace support through visits, telephone calls and emails from a FoNS practice development facilitator
  • This will support fellows to refine and use facilitation skills to lead their teams; promote reflective practice, support problem solving and share what they have learned, for example, through reports and publishing
  • Fellows receive bursaries of up to £3,000 to support the development and improvement work
  • A second cohort will be recruited later this year
  • The programme is supported by the Burdett Trust for Nursing

Read more on the programme here


What is the Foundation of Nursing Studies?

FoNS is a charity that works with nurses and health and social care teams to develop and share innovative ways of improving practice.

FoNS operates across the UK and all health and social care settings. As well as running programmes such as Inspire Improvement, it provides an annual scholarship, as well as mentoring and clinical supervision opportunities for individuals, teams and organisations.

Find out more here

What does the Burdett Trust for Nursing do?

The Burdett Trust for Nursing, an independent charitable trust set up in 2002, makes grants in support of nurse-led projects to improve patient care.

Trustees focus their funding on three key areas:

  • Building nursing research capacity and capabilities
  • Building nurse leadership capacity and capabilities
  • Supporting local nurse-led initiatives

For more on the trust’s grant programmes click here 

Do you have what it takes to be an Inspire Improvement Fellow?

Are you…

  • A clinical team leader who possess a professional qualification?
  • A direct line manager and leader of a team of nurses and care staff, based in clinical practice?
  • Working in a clinical setting where direct patient care is delivered?
  • Open and receptive to new ways of working and have the courage to try these out with their team (with support from FoNS)?
  • Willing to commit to a 12-month programme, including workshops, workplace visits, assessments and ultimately innovations in practice?

Do you…  

  • Have insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the current workplace culture?
  • Have insight into the strengths and weaknesses of your facilitation and leadership skills?
  • Have realistic hopes and expectations for how the programme will affect team working, staff well-being and patient experience, and how it will inspire improvement in the workplace culture?
  • Have the willingness and courage to develop your own facilitative leadership skills and confidence?
  • Have a desire to work collaboratively with staff and patients in your clinical area?

Applications for the 2019 cohort will be invited from August or September this year. For details click here


Jennifer Trueland is a freelance health journalist

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