Getting out of your comfort zone

By Joanna Keable (She/her) RM MSc Deputy Director of Midwifery and Gynaecology on 17 August 2023 RCM UK Research Safety Wellbeing Of Women Women ICM - International Congress of Midwives

On the 31 July 2023 I joined Birte for the day in London feeling both excited and curious, unsure of what to expect in an observer capacity. Clearly getting out of my comfort zone, from my day job as a Head of Midwifery at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Essex.

My experience was incredibly well organised by Birte’s assistant who shared a program of the day which included the meeting schedule and the attendee’s names and roles. This enabled me to google the details of each of the attendees- the various leaders from the RCM around the UK, the NMC and the RCOG and follow them on linked in too. In fact, my linked in account had never been so busy.

Anyway, enough about the prep. Birte was warm and welcoming and we started the day with a review of what the various meetings and potential discussions were likely to focus on. Here I began to think ‘oh, so a day working at a national level starts the same way as any other day in the operational world that I inhabit’ (my comfort zone).

The day started with a team huddle, led by RCM Chief Executive Gill Walton checking in with the team around the lead messages for the week which included perinatal mental health, celebrating newly qualified midwives and NASA. An example of how the RCM is supporting leadership development by bringing the best to us so that we can all develop.

Birte and I then discussed how being on the FNF scholarship programme is impacting me and I shared the amazing two days spent on the Kings Fund Leadership immersive. These days were a catalyst to accepting the offer, to spend the day with Birte, at the RCM. As I was inspired and motivated to stretch myself with new experiences, that when you have had a career of 30 years in the NHS you realise may have led to a level of institutionalization.

I am also an experiential learner and years of reading and more recently podcasts, I was still struggling with concepts such as power, authority, influence and politics in the NHS. The FNF and Kings Fund have certainly emboldened me to explore this and the day at the RCM helped me to see this in action and understand these concepts, turning them into my new reality.

There were student midwives shadowing other colleagues present on the day, clearly this is not a new concept and a big round of applause to them for engaging at this level early in their development. I could not recommend this experience enough and I was straight on to my FNF group chat to share, hoping to inspire my new colleagues too.

What an absolute privilege to listen to the Country Directors from Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales in one meeting discuss the issues affecting the midwifery services in their country and their members. Their discussion topics wont surprise you; the state of maternity services, workforce, retention, wellbeing, service user views around choice and availability of birth centres and homebirths. The very same topics that are polarising in my service too. However, what was fascinating was that the Directors were seeking support and discussion from each other to progress and improve, again the same way we conduct ourselves in our forums at an operational level, too. The extra layer that was more evident included explicit discussion around the party politics and influencing at a national level that was at work.

Other familiar layers were also evident, such as discussing risks to ongoing work and emerging risks which included support for regional Chief Midwives and raising the issues with the new Chief Midwife for her awareness too. The emerging topic being freebirth and the involvement of doulas at births too.

Other similarities for me included the importance of visibility and networking, for the RCM at party conferences, for me on the wards and in my community. Clearly leadership, is leadership whether this is in an NHS Trust or at a National Royal College influencing politics and supporting members in the name of the midwifery profession.

The day concluded with a reflective discussion with Birte, where I was able to understand the interdependence of what were previously abstract concepts to me, outside of my comfort zone. It was a truly inspirational day and one that I am now keen to repeat while I am in my FNF scholarship year. But you don’t have to be on the FNF program to get out and learn. I am looking forward to further shadowing opportunities, possibly the NMC and the Chief Midwives office too!