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‘To get to the top, you have to be prepared to take risks’

Few black nurses make it to a director of nursing post. Mary Mumvuri believes her success is down to drive, enthusiasm - and a willingness to seek out external opportunities for promotion.
mary mumvuri

Few black nurses make it to a director of nursing post. Mary Mumvuri believes her success is down to drive, enthusiasm - and a willingness to seek out external opportunities for promotion

Walk into any NHS hospital and you will find black and ethnic minority nurses (BME) delivering care. BME nurses have been a mainstay of the NHS since it was founded, but there has been a growing realisation that BME nurses are less likely than their white peers to rise through the ranks and become senior nurses or managers.

Only a handful of directors of nursing are from a BME background. The only one in a mental health trust, and the only one from an African country, is Mary Mumvuri, executive director of nursing

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Few black nurses make it to a director of nursing post. Mary Mumvuri believes her success is down to drive, enthusiasm - and a willingness to seek out external opportunities for promotion


Mary Mumvuri says a combination of focus, risk-taking and support from others has
enabled her to advance in nursing.

Walk into any NHS hospital and you will find black and ethnic minority nurses (BME) delivering care. BME nurses have been a mainstay of the NHS since it was founded, but there has been a growing realisation that BME nurses are less likely than their white peers to rise through the ranks and become senior nurses or managers.

Only a handful of directors of nursing are from a BME background. The only one in a mental health trust, and the only one from an African country, is Mary Mumvuri, executive director of nursing and governance at Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust. Based in Maidstone, the trust provides adult mental health services across the county, from inpatient units to community-based teams.

For Ms Mumvuri, the role is the culmination of a long career in mental health nursing, which has seen her work in various trusts in London, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and Kent.

Drive and focus

She grew up in Zimbabwe and completed her school education there before moving to the UK, where she did her nurse training. The decision to move into mental health nursing was influenced by a visit to a ward in her home country in the 1980s, where she was shocked by some of the conditions, including confinement for the most ill patients. ‘I will never forget it,’ she says. 

So what has allowed her to progress to nursing director, when so many others have been stymied? ‘I think you have to want to do it,’ she says. ‘The drive, the enthusiasm, the focus – you have to have all of that. And you have to be prepared to take risks.

‘I could have stayed in the same organisation and complained that there were no opportunities for promotion, but I was always clear about what I was looking for and what I wanted to do. I looked for those opportunities outside of the organisation if necessary.’

She adds that she has been ‘lucky’ throughout her career. ‘I have had people who support me and believe in me and give me the opportunities. I know that, being from a BME background, that is not always the case.’

Ms Mumvuri says she does not know if she has been discriminated against, ‘but all the moves I have made were external ones. I will never know if I had stayed in the same organisation and tried to progress whether I would have faced particular challenges’.

Role models 

She says progress to senior roles can seem ‘unattainable’ to BME staff. And when they do move into more senior roles, there is a danger they will sometimes be seen as ‘making up the numbers’.

Good role models have been a vital element in her success, she says. One of them was Oliver Shanley, the deputy chief executive at Hertfordshire Partnership University Foundation Trust, who she says ‘pushed me hard, but I learnt an awful lot’.  Another was Melanie Coombes, director of nursing at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, who supported her leadership development.

Having a peer group of other senior nurses has also been important – ‘people who you can pick up the phone and talk to at 3am’ – along with the support of her family. But a lot has depended on her willingness to work incredibly hard: she took on a master’s degree with a 6-month-old baby and a job.  

Adding quality improvement and assurance to her portfolio of skills certainly helped to equip her for a nursing director role, she says.

Making changes

Ms Mumvuri and chief executive Helen Greatorex only arrived at the Kent and Medway in June, but have already started making changes. One of these is reducing out-of-area placements – a move which should bring financial benefits and keep patients and their families close together. 

With some facilities just a few miles from London, recruitment of nurses and other staff can be difficult. Ms Mumvuri is keen to address this by ensuring that jobs are attractive, rather than by paying the ‘golden hello’ that is becoming common for some staff.  At the same time the trust is trying to ensure services are more than 9-5 and meet the needs of patients.

And with her background in quality improvement, Ms Mumvuri is working to embed improvement methodology in the trust, so ‘you can feel it when you walk around’. This kind of cultural change takes a long time, she adds. ‘You know you have got it right when you can walk into a ward in Thanet or a team in Dartford and everyone is talking about the same things.’

Like all directors of nursing, Ms Mumvuri has to have a keen understanding of financial realities. Balancing finance and quality is always a dilemma for boards, and mental health is still not funded on par with physical health, she points out. 

‘I would hope with sustainability and transformation plans and changing the focus from individual organisations, that may start to shift. Transformation needs to happen and needs to happen at pace. But there is a real challenge around the funding gap that needs to be plugged,’ she says. 


Alison Moore is a freelance health writer

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