Professor Donna Mead
Professor Mead trained in Merthyr School of Nursing winning the gold medal for best student in training. Her early clinical experiences sparked off a desire to work with children and she eventually became a paediatric ward sister.
From 1983 to 1985 Professor Mead studied at the University of Manchester where she obtained an MSc and successfully completed teacher training. Professor Mead took up her first teaching post. She shortly thereafter set up and led the first B.Nurs (Pre Registration Course) in the North East Wales Institute, Wrexham; and became a Consultant Nurse with Clwyd Health Authority.
In 1989, Professor Mead moved to the Nursing Research Unit at the University of Wales College of Medicine to take up the post of Senior Research Assistant. She worked on an all Wales study into primary nursing, which was commissioned by the Welsh Office, Nursing Division. During this time she began her Doctoral studies.
Professor Mead was appointed Assistant Director of the School of Nursing and Midwifery and Health Care at the University of Wales, Swansea in 1991. She was Head of Research and Graduate Studies. Professor Mead completed her PhD in 1993.
In 1996, she was appointed Professor of Nursing and Head of the School of Care Sciences at the University of Glamorgan, and in 2005, Professor Mead became the Dean of the newly formed faculty of Health, Sport and Science. That same year she was also awarded the RCN Welsh Board record of achievement.
Professor Mead has always maintained close links with the NHS. She was the higher education representative on the Welsh Nursing and Midwifery Committee for six years, and she led the team which produced the first ever policy document to be issued from the newly formed National Assembly for Wales, ‘Realising the Potential: A strategy for Nursing, midwifery and Health Visiting in Wales’.
Professor Mead received an OBE for her services to healthcare, the Fellowship of the Royal College of Nursing and is an Officer of The Order of St John.
Tell us about your journey to where you are today.
I’ve had an interesting journey! I’m currently the Dean of a faculty which has a whole raft of different subjects including nursing and health care, social work, police, sport, education. Nurses are still not seen as those who will rise to executive positions, so I think that makes my journey all the more interesting.
From a very young age I knew I wanted to be a nurse. My Mum bought me a nurse’s uniform when I was a child and I also went to St. John meetings in my village. At grammar school I achieved nine good O levels and when I announced that I wanted to be a nurse some of the teachers said it would be a waste of a good education and they washed their hands of me! I felt that they were discounting me and my passion, and so I left school at 17 to do a pre-nursing course. There weren’t many degree courses around in the late 1960s and 1970s and I did a conventional State Registered Nurse course in Merthyr Tydfil. I had a real drive to succeed and I discovered there was a London University nursing diploma franchised to Swansea Institute of Higher Education which I commenced almost as soon as I qualified. It was a 2-year part time course and I passed.
I continued to gain staff nurse experience but I also wanted to broaden my clinical horizons. I came to Cardiff to work at Llandough Hospital. From there I went to study for a Masters Degree in Nursing at Manchester University. There was only four fully funded places a year for the whole of UK to study the course at Manchester, and I was accepted for one of them. I was able to study under an influential lady called Jean McFarlane, Baroness of Llandaff. There was however a bargain to be struck- the General Nursing Council weren’t able to fund academic courses so you were required to study professional courses at the same time as academic courses. In the first year therefore, I obtained the registered clinical nurse teacher qualification and in the second year, a registered nurse teacher qualification (most people would recognise this as the post graduate certificate in education). Studying for a Masters degree at the same time as the professional qualifications made for an intense 2-year full time course and almost everyone who was a graduate of that programme has become an influential individual in nursing. It was a fantastic immersive learning experience.
I had become keen to train as a teacher because when I was a ward sister (before I went to Manchester) I was required to mentor all the students who came to the ward to gain clinical experience. They required teaching at different levels. I often wondered if I was pitching it right for everybody. My main impetus was to gain a teaching qualification so the Masters degree was a real bonus. I returned to Wales and worked at the Prince Charles Hospital in the School of Nursing. This provided me with a good grounding in the fundamentals of teaching nurses. I also wanted to be closer to my mother who was ill, and some time after she passed away I began to look around for what to do next. I found a new opportunity in North Wales as a Senior Lecturer in what is now Glyndwr University. My role was to establish a degree in nursing (the first in the area) and also to be a consultant nurse. I soon realised that I was settling in academia and, therefore, I needed a PhD. I found an opportunity at Cardiff University, where Welsh Office funding had been obtained by Professor Jillian Macguire to undertake a two year study into primary nursing. I began work as a research assistant which was a bit of a come down after being a senior lecturer. Nevertheless it was worth it to complete my academic education. I then moved to Swansea University into the post of Assistant Director of Education in the nursing department. There I established a degree course in Nursing and completed my doctoral studies. I spent four happy years there. Then an opportunity arose to become Head of School at the University of South Wales (formerly the University of Glamorgan,) and I have been there ever since.
How has your life experience shaped you as an individual?
I was born in the South Wales Valleys into a mining family. My father became a miner at 14 years old. There was no opportunity for him to go to University. He rose to the rank of fireman which is the highest you could go without a formal engineering qualification. He decided to form a cooperative and with some of his colleagues they established their own private, drift mine. He did the surveying and that mine still produces coal today. The venture plunged the family into poverty as it made very little money in the beginning and what profit was made was placed back into the mine’s development. Poverty has always stuck with me, and one of my driving forces is that I don’t want to be poor. My parents later divorced and I was raised by my mother. I also watched male members of my family suffer with respiratory diseases from working underground, and this has always stuck with me. When I worked in Llandough Hospital, I nursed miners who had crippling respiratory diseases from years spent underground. I have a real heart for the Valleys and the communities within them. You have to be true to yourself and my background has ingrained in me a deep sense of – this is where I want to be, to see what difference I can make. Julian Tudor Hart once said that those who have the greatest need for healthcare have the least access to it and I want kick that trend by having in a South Wales University the best possible clinical facilities for students to learn. My social mission is to encourage individual men and women from the local community to study to become a nurse or midwife. This means that you ensure that there is a qualified workforce in the local community. It often means that on qualifying as a staff nurse, there is a wage earner for the first time in some families and for some families also it means the first graduate which can change a family’s aspirations for ever.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure?
There have been many highlights including achieving a gold medal in training for being the best student nurse of the year, earning my PhD, being awarded the OBE, and becoming an officer of the Order of St John and a Fellow of the Royal College of Nursing.
When devolution came to Wales, the then Chief Nursing Officer wanted a brand new nursing strategy. I was selected to do write this along with my small team, and we had to turn it round in six weeks when normally it should have taken three years! It was the first ever policy document that was endorsed by the National Assembly for Wales, and it provided a strategy that would develop a nursing profession fit for the 21st century, and one which would enable nurses and midwives to meet the increasingly complex needs of patients. In order to deliver nursing care for patients with complex needs, I argued that a graduate workforce was necessary and this was accepted. I think the NHS in Wales has achieved this without compromising patient care.
I think that one of my proudest achievements is playing a key role in getting nursing established as a proper academic discipline. Florence Nightingale said that to be a good nurse you have to be a good woman and she refused to allow nursing to be studied in a University. There are people today who still believe that all that is needed to become a good nurse is to have a caring disposition. It’s been a big challenge to overcome this. You read phrases that graduate nurses are too posh to wash or too clever to care. There is no evidence for this and convincing some people that nursing needs to be studied at degree level because the needs of patients today are so complex has been a real challenge.
What’s a typical day like for you as the Dean of Faculty?
I don’t have a typical day and this does have drawbacks, as I’m not allowed to teach anymore because of my schedule (you have to be available on the same day of the week at the same time for 15 weeks). I do, however, supervise some PhD students. I am grant holder for an All Wales research collaboration. I am very much an “outward facing” Dean. For example, I’m an independent member of one local health board, a trustee of St John Cymru Wales and a Governor of Neath Port Talbot College Group. I’m also a member of the Bevan Commission and the Welsh Nursing and Midwifery Committee.
What are your current research projects?
When I came to the University I wanted to grow research, as there was very little going on. In order to be able to grow research, I became a methodologist and provided advice to staff and students on the best methods for their investigations and studies. I figured that I could always obtain clinical advice. Six years ago I formed a consortium amongst all universities in Wales which provide health courses to in order build research capacity in nursing, midwifery and allied health professions. One of the key aims of the collaboration is to pool the intellectual capital of academic nurses and allied health professionals across Wales in order to develop sufficient numbers of researchers able to study patient care. We do this by supporting individuals to obtain a PhD and the collaboration has been successful both in terms of the amount of funding received and in the numbers of health professionals obtaining their doctoral qualification.
What advice would you offer those looking to become a nurse?
Go for it! It is still one of the most rewarding professions and one in which the possibilities to diversify are endless. I’ve been fortunate to travel to countries such as Canada, Finland, Malaysia, Malta and Syria- all as a consequence of my work as a nurse. It has brought me joy to look after patients and students and to do research.
Nursing is not an easy option as you work much harder than conventional university students due to a longer academic year and more teaching every week. It’s a hard course and you need to be determined.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace, particularly in the health sector?
Professional nursing started in the Crimea and Florence Nightingale had the chance to put nursing into universities but didn’t. I believe this has held nursing back for over 100 years- and it took Wales to put this right! We’ve not had a graduate workforce and there is a public perception of nurses mopping a fevered brow, when actually it is a highly intellectual and skills based profession. There’s also the close proximity to another profession, medicine which has impeded the development of nursing through it paternalistic relationship with nursing. Even within nursing, gender issues have been experienced. For many years it was the case that men were a very small proportion of the nursing workforce yet they held the majority of the senior roles. There’s also the baggage of being a woman- self-esteem issues, childcare and career breaks to raise a family. When I joined the profession the days of having to leave if you were married were not long over! This situation has changed.
For example, I attended the 203 Welsh Field Hospital homecoming recently. The commanding officer is Colonel Tina Donnelly. She’s a woman and a nurse. Likewise the Chief Executive of Cwm Taf University Health Board, Allison Williams is a woman and a nurse. It will be easier for future generations of nurses to achieve the top positions.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I’ve never sought out a mentor but there have been four people who have been very influential who I will always remember. 1) There was a Ward Sister who I worked with for 3 years and I learned the value of wisdom from her and how she helped people come to terms with issues and provided practical solutions to problems. 2) A senior tutor in my first teaching role also taught me wisdom and perspective. 3) I was fortunate enough to study with Baroness Jean MacFarlane, and I learnt from her how to get a nursing department in a medical University established- quietly, persistently, and methodically. What I learned from her I applied to establishing a nursing department in the University where I now work. 4) Finally, a gentleman who unlocked my fear of Maths when I was doing my Masters degree, and he helped to make me the researcher I am today.
Who are your role models?
I’d like to think I inspire others! I don’t have a role model myself, but I admire traits in individuals. I’d like to think I am like Betsi Cadwaladr, a Welsh nurse and contemporary of Florence Nightingale, who was tenacious and feisty!
How do you make the most of your down time?
I spend time with my three grandchildren, Daniel, James and Sam and on my boat. In the winter months I make greeting cards and scrapbook albums to exercise a different part of my brain.
What words sum up where you have got to today?
Tenacity and stamina.