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‘Growing up, everyone told me I wasn’t smart enough to be a nurse’

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Clinical team leader Carroll Johnson-Chapman tells Genevieve Rice how she fought to achieve, and surpass, the goals she had been told were beyond her capabilities 

Carroll Johnson-Chapman

Carroll Johnson-Chapman

Not everyone has the courage to fight for the future they dream about. And it could well be a fight – the voices of teachers, peers and parents can be equally as negative as they are positive in young lives. 

During her childhood, Carroll Johnson-Chapman was one of many who were told to be realistic about their future. But, she says, it was through her own persistence in her dreams and belief in herself that she became a nurse – and that has helped her to bring about social and technological change in her field of work.

Ms Johnson-Chapman attended an inner-city school in Birmingham. It was there that she decided she wanted to pursue a career in healthcare – and it was also there that she was told that she was not good enough or smart enough to succeed.

“Everyone said I couldn’t do it and I could only be a helper, that I wouldn’t amount to much,” she recalls. But, despite the lack of support, she did not give up. From 1986 until 1993, she pursued a career as a state enrolled nurse. 

When her superior told her that she should take a conversion course to become a qualified nurse, she began to fight for recognition in a career that she had been told was impossible for someone with her background.

Now, 25 years later, Ms Johnson-Chapman has done more than her teachers ever said she could. In 2003, she added health visitor to her qualifications and, in 2009, she attended Keele University for her post-graduate studies. 

“I didn’t think I was smart enough, but then I worked on my postgraduate degree for a year and I found that I could do it,” she says. 

Her career has combined education and practical experience at Birmingham Women’s Hospital, what was then Birmingham East and North Primary Care Trust, and Birmingham Community, Healthcare Foundation Trust proving vital to her professional growth. 

“I do my bit as a nurse; we are expected to continually learn and grow,” she said. “We must consolidate and continue to implement what we learn.”

This drive for growth and innovation in nursing led Ms Johnson-Chapman to take a course on leadership for health visitors, during which she was inspired to harness technology to help inexperienced parents. In collaboration with a charity – The Lullaby Trust, which delivered the course – she proposed the Baby Check app. The app contains a survey new parents can complete to determine whether their infant needs clinical attention.

The idea for the app, modelled on one of the charity’s booklets, was put in motion after she had to pitch it at the end of the leadership course. And so the Baby Check app was born. 

Ms Johnson-Chapman says she had always had a flair for technology – but her inner-city childhood and everything she was told at school discouraged her from using it. As an adult, this was no longer the case and she realised her flair could be put to good use.

“As a nation, we go to war with technology,” she says. “Rather than give out booklets, this app can direct parents so they know what to do with their sick infant. [Pitching and promoting it] gave me confidence to take on challenges. It was a chance to get people to take the app seriously.” 

As well as with the release of the app, Ms Johnson-Chapman has seen success as a clinical team leader, where she directs a team of 28 people, ranging from health visitors to administration staff. She says she was drawn to this position because of the opportunity it would give her to ‘platform’ others for success. 

She says: “I quite like managing people: helping, supporting and seeing them grow. If I can make them sure they are supported and the infrastructure is good, then they can best serve others.”

She has also been selected as a judge for this year’s Student Nursing Times Awards for the first time.

Despite the challenges and opposition that Ms Johnson-Chapman has faced, and continues to face, she supports others and drives her department forward. She continues to push herself to excellence and says her past displays the truth that she firmly believes: “wherever you come from, you can do amazing things, given the opportunity.” 

How do I get to be you?

My mantra is “Never let the word ‘no’ get in the way”. It doesn’t matter what your background is – I grew up in an inner-city area and am from a black and minority ethnic background – if you have determination you can become whatever you want to be. Do not be afraid to try every opportunity that your career offers (I have been a nurse, a midwife and a health visitor) and do not be afraid to ask people about the opportunities they can offer you.

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