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'I’ve never been let down by the isolation that comes with cutting against the grain'

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Professor Jaqueline Dunkley-Bent OBE, one of Nursing Times’ Most Inspirational Leaders in 2015, winner of the HSJ BME Pioneers award and recent recipient of an OBE in the 2017 New Years honours list, talks to us about what it’s like to cut against the grain and achieve big

jacqueline dunkley bent

jacqueline dunkley bent

Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent OBE

“I feel challenged in difficult times when I look to the right and I look to the left and the support I thought I had isn’t there,” says Jaqueline Dunkley-Bent OBE, midwife, educator, and NHS director. “I have always believed that there would be merit at the end of the journey, and I’ve never been let down by the isolation that comes with cutting against the grain.”

By simultaneously working as a midwife, educator, and manager for the majority of her career, Ms Dunkley-Bent has gained a unique and critical perspective that makes her stand out from the crowd.

Even now, alongside her roles as head of Maternity, Children and Young People at NHS England and maternity safety champion for the Department of Health, Ms Dunkley-Bent is a visiting professor of midwifery at both King’s College London and London South Bank University, and is a practising midwife.

“It was a natural career progression and I followed it”

Such a balancing act would make most people’s heads spin, but for Ms Dunkley-Bent the culmination of these positions has been an easy and natural progression propelled by her desire to be the best that she has the potential to be.

Ms Dunkley-Bent started her career as a general nurse, but decided to move to midwifery. “It was a natural career progression and I followed it,” she says. After her midwifery training she worked in all areas of maternity but she particularly enjoyed supporting a personal caseload of women through the antenatal, labour and postnatal period.

However, Ms Dunkley-Bent soon felt a desire to work in education. “I always had a particular interest in teaching,” she notes. “I mentored a lot of students while I was a junior midwife, and, eventually, I decided to test my teaching prowess out in the classroom.”

So, after completing an advanced diploma in midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives and a post-graduate teaching certificate (PGCEA) at Surrey University, Ms Dunkley-Bent became a lecturer – later a senior lecturer, and then curriculum leader – at Middlesex University.

After getting her Master’s in health promotion, and authoring a book on health promotion in midwifery, Ms Dunkley-Bent was again drawn to another career path– leadership and management. In this vein, she took on roles as a consultant midwife and head of midwifery and women’s services at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ NHS Trust, and eventually the positions of honorary clinical director at NHS London and the director of midwifery and divisional director of nursing at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

“It is so important to be able to shape strategy and policy by reflecting the views of maternity services”

Throughout all of Ms Dunkley-Bent’s interludes in education and management, she has remained a practising midwife. “It allows me to advise on maternity matters and contribute to policy development from an experiential practice perspective,” she says. “I think it is so important to be able to shape strategy and policy by reflecting the views of maternity services, in addition to the contribution of empirical evidence”.

And, although Ms Dunkley-Bent’s career forces her to stand alone at times, it doesn’t stop her from offering support and advice wherever she can. Ms Dunkley-Bent mentors many healthcare professionals from diverse backgrounds and different professions. She is a member of the ‘Women of the Year’ management committee and works as midwifery advisor for the Wellbeing Foundation Africa, contributing to the reduction in maternal mortality across the African continent, as well as sitting on the Tommy’s charity pregnancy advisory board.

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but you have to take care of those parts”

“Anyone in a senior position has a responsibility to ensure that our health system is the best that it can be, [this means] always looking out for people who are going to make the best tomorrows,” she says. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but you have to take care of those parts.”

For all her years of service trying to create change for women, their children, and their families, Ms Dunkley-Bent has been awarded with an OBE, HSJ BME Pioneers award, and recognition in Nursing Times’ Most Inspirational Leaders list – along with many other accolades.

Most recently, her services to midwifery were recognised in the 2017 New Year honours list. “I feel truly privileged to be recognised in this way for my contribution to an amazing profession that supports the miraculous journey of new life,” she says. “My work is and continues to be a culmination of the efforts of many.”

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