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One illness, several outcomes

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Inequalities in healthcare put Laura Serrant on a path she never expected to take

“The thing that struck me the most were people’s ‘life chances’ - in other words, inequality,” Professor Laura Serrant says, recalling the time her interest in healthcare began to grow. Her observation that different people had different prognoses for the same illnesses had intrigued her, and led her to embark on what turned into a journey in healthcare spanning almost 32 years.

However, nursing was not Professor Serrant’s first choice; she started her career in healthcare at medical school. But on the train to Nottingham after having

had an interview for a place at a London medical school, she had the feeling that life as a doctor would not be right for her. “The further I was going to get into the career, the further I was going to get away from the patients,” she says.

She did, however, want to go to university. After a talk with one of her teachers, in which she found out that, for the first time, degrees were going to be awarded at the end of nursing courses, she knew the path she was going to take.

In the last year of her nursing training at Sheffield Polytechnic, Professor Serrant trained at the gynaecology unit. She says that media interest in Aids had grown at the time, and people’s worries about the newly discovered, then-deadly epidemic had also grown with it.

“We spent a lot of time dealing with people’s distress,” she says. And it was this that got her interested in working in sexual health.

After getting her BA in nursing in 1986, Professor Serrant took a dip into the realm of sociology and gained an MA in Women’s Studies in 1994. As there was no Master’s degree in nursing at the time, she decided to read this subject to find the information she wanted on HIV, as well as that which would be relevant to black and minority ethnic groups. “The opportunities were never quite straightforward,” she says.

And that was the pattern that followed her. She took up the role as nurse/outreach worker in sexual health at Nottingham Community Health. Her widened knowledge also gained her the position of national adviser (BME issues) with the Independent Advisory Group for Sexual Health and HIV for the Department of Health between 2003 and 2007.

“I kind of decide what I want to do and how I am going to get there,” Professor Serrant explains. “Begin with the ending in mind” is the motto she uses to describe her strategy.

Not only did she become a community nurse, but she also branched out into the world of academia. After completing her MA, she then received her PhD in nursing in 2004 and is, at present, professor of Community and Public Health Nursing as well as associate dean of Research and Enterprise at the University of Wolverhampton. She is also a member of the International Collaboration for Community Nursing Research Committee.

Professor Serrant believes that the range of career options available for nurses, including those nurses who have a wide range of experiences, should be more widely demonstrated to the public. “We need to promote diversity in the nursing role,” she says. She also believes nurses should have a stronger part to play in nursing research to influence their own practices and develop evidence-based nursing.

Professor Serrant also believes “it’s important for leaders to be at the coalface”. That’s why she regards her appearances in the lecture theatre and her endeavours in mentoring, as well as the awards she receives - like her recent Queen’s Nurse title - with such importance. “When I win an award, it’s not just for me,” she says.

Much of the inspiration Professor Serrant had to succeed, she says, she owes to the people she refers to as “giants”. And just what makes someone a “giant”? According to her, “Giants are critical friends who help you on the way; they challenge you to do things and to challenge yourself.”

Tesneem Ayoub

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