London Met welcomes Julie-Ann Maclaren as Head of Nursing

We caught up with Dr Maclaren, who is leading the development of the University’s new Nursing programmes, which will begin next year.

Date: 23 August 2022

Welcome to London Met! Can you tell us a bit about yourself? 

I originally come from Bristol, and undertook a four-year degree in nursing at Southbank University, and the Westminster hospital.  It was there that I identified that at some point I would want to teach and be involved in running a nursing programme. 

After qualification I worked at the Royal Marsden Hospital in various oncology nursing roles. I started developing courses, mostly around the management of Lymphoedema – a swelling of the limbs that mostly occurs when your lymph nodes are removed after cancer treatment, whilst working in the cancer rehabilitation team.

From there I moved into the Institute of Cancer Research as a Lecturer in Cancer Care, then to the University of Surrey as a Senior Tutor, which really sparked my interest in practice-based learning. That turned into  the main focus of my doctorate in education (EdD), researching the experiences of registered nurses developing as mentors for junior members of staff. I looked at how closely the standards for education were mapped to what was actually happening in practice, and found that some inconsistencies meant that standards were not always followed in the two hospitals studied. It wasn’t just what you knew, but who you knew, and the social capital that you brought to your role which helped you learn and practise effectively. 

While I was studying for the doctorate, I was also working at City University. I started as a Senior Lecturer in Education Development, and after a couple of reorganisations, I found myself in the nursing division. I worked as the Deputy Divisional Lead for six years before coming to London Met. 

Why did you want to join the University?

I was looking for a role where I could practice the different strands that had come about through my career. I knew I wanted to be involved in curriculum development, management or leadership, and some kind of practice-based learning. When I saw the job, I thought it really fit with all of my ambitions.

It’s a chance to lead more fully and have my vision come to fruition. It’s a brilliant time to come to London Met because of the development of nursing as a subject within the University. The plans we’ve got for the new skills and simulation suite on the second floor of the Learning Centre are amazing. At the moment I’m meeting with architects and designers, which makes me think I’m in my own episode of Grand Designs!

What are your ambitions for our nursing programmes?

Unlike quite a few other nursing departments within higher education institutes in London, what we’re planning for our programme is to have much more of a community focus. We’re interested in things like partnerships with GP federations, in how care gets delivered in care homes, how care gets delivered in occupational health departments, as well as those core experiences that are so essential to nursing. 

In order to support that,our new skills and simulation suite will provide several different types of care environment in which our nurses will learn to provide care. They’ll prepare themselves for wards and community placements, and they’ll do some very clinically-focused learning. We’re organising areas that will have a home environment set up, an environment where we’ll have a six bed ward that students will be able to staff, and we’re making provisions for individual consulting rooms. That’s as well as a very large skills practice area which will allow us to teach smaller groups to learn new skills like venepuncture, cannulation, or wound dressings. 

How has the pandemic changed the experiences of student nurses, and the expectations of nursing courses?

The positives of the pandemic have been to show that nurses can work in very different ways, and are very adaptable to working in areas other than the traditional ward or GP practice. It’s taught us a lot about how we further develop telehealth, how we get our staff to be more forward-thinking about not just what technology or care is on the horizon now, but what’s beyond the horizon. 

What it’s been less good for is things like being able to organise ward-based clinical placements, because the pandemic has meant wards have changed. There have been very quick turnovers from Covid-free through to Covid-affected wards. Student nurses and staff had to work in hospital areas that were very different - you might find that a theatre has been repurposed to be a children’s ITU, for example. 

What has really  suffered during the pandemic has been the mental health of nurses and their patients and service users. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to build mental resilience, although thankfully this is all covered within the Nursing and Midwifery Standards which underpin nursing education. These standards consider each patient as not just the ‘person in bed five’ but values their whole life and community around them. 

Our programme is being developed at the same time as a governmental health and social white paper on integrated care systems, which is aims to refocus care away from hospital settings, to consider ‘okay, what happens when a patient who has a stroke comes in to A&E, what’s their care pathway, and how are we going to ensure that person doesn’t fall between the gaps?’

For me, the nursing curriculum has to mimic that, and has to really let students see how integrated care works. 

Julie Ann Maclaren