“I saw ways we could improve and was not afraid to try new things, including changing direction and learning from mistakes.”

Roisin Fitzsimmons is the Co-Head of the Nightingale Academy at Guy’s & St Thomas’ and a Consultant Nurse. Here, she talks about her experiences in her career to date and shares some advice for aspiring nurse leaders.

When I qualified as a nurse in 1996 I wasn’t sure if I had what it took to become a ward sister.  Little did I imagine that 23 years later I would be Head of the Nightingale Academy at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, running a programme for department leaders, at the organisation where I trained all those years before.  

Reflections on my journey always start with, how did I end up here? My default is usually, I got lucky and was in the right place at the right time.  After working in general paediatrics and then in an Accident and Emergency Department, I wanted a change and joined the then recently launched children’s allergy service at Evelina London, which like me, was new but had plenty of aspiration, determination and motivation!  

As the allergy service grew so did my skills and experience.  It is now the largest children’s allergy nurse-led service in the UK, growing from one nurse to fifteen, running outpatient clinics and seeing over 200 children a month in our nurse-led day case unit, pioneering new ways of treating children. I saw ways we could improve and was not afraid to try new things, including changing direction and learning from mistakes.  I sought opportunities, and was encouraged and supported which led to national leadership roles and the development of the Allergy in Practice course at the King’s College London Allergy Academy.  

In 2018, I was ready for a new challenge and wanted to utilise the skills I had learned in my speciality to influence and inspire people more widely across the organisation.  Recognising the need for more development programmes for our nursing and midwifery leaders, I drew on my positive experiences to create a leadership programme to support nurses and encourage a culture of compassion and providing skills to ensure excellence in patient care.  We understand that one size doesn’t fit all and that learning is individual, particularly with clinical commitments. This is why our programmes blend a variety of learning methods, such as didactic teaching, action learning sets and buddying. This has led to fantastic support and engagement from senior leaders as well as junior nurses and midwives.  

I am fortunate to have worked in incredibly supportive and inclusive teams who have encouraged my development throughout my career.  This is why I did not hesitate to accept the Nursing Now Nightingale Challenge on behalf of an organisation that believes in providing leadership development opportunities for all.  

My considerations for developing leaders are:

  • What has worked for you and what have you enjoyed in your leadership journey?  Speak to others and employ a variety of methods which are proven to work. 
  • Collaborate with others, we don’t know everything and it really does share the burden. You will benefit from  a different perspective and by involving others they are more likely to support you as they will have ownership of the project.
  • Grab every opportunity you can!  Do things that take you out of your comfort zone, it can be terrifying but it is also rewarding and you will meet new people to grow and develop with, and have opportunities you never know existed!