Cecilia Anim shares her journey of care, activism and hope, which took her from Africa to the RCN
From a Ghanaian midwifery school to deputy president of the Royal College of Nursing in central London may seem like an unusual career trajectory, but for Cecilia Anim it’s only one part of her incredible journey. She remembers fondly her African upbringing, marking out her bustling family home as an early inspiration for her caring nature.
“Being in an African family where we all lived together, I was always gravitating to people who needed support,” she says. “That bit of care and compassion was inbuilt in the way I dealt with people from a young age.”
One family member in particular proved an inspiration. “I aspired to be like my late aunt,” Ms Anim remembers. “She came to Europe in the 1960s and worked in the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital as a nursing sister.
“My mother tells me that when I was a little girl I always played with dolls and when someone asked: ‘What do you want to be?’, I always said I want to be a ‘big wife’ - I meant midwife.”
So it was decided and, on leaving school, Ms Anim enrolled at midwifery training school in Ghana for a course offering a year’s general nursing followed by 18 months midwifery specialism. She thrived on the responsibility.
“Of the five years I spent
as a midwife in Ghana, I only worked in the hospital for 18 months; the rest of the time I was running health centres alone, which was a fantastic experience,” she says. “The doctor only visited once a week so whatever came in between those visits I dealt with.”
Ms Anim enjoyed the sense of value the role brought. “I was transferred to a rural area 21 miles from the city,” she recalls. “I enjoyed being in control and helping, and the people were so appreciative. I never had to go to the market because the farmers would bring me food.”
It wasn’t long before her aunt, now with her own midwifery practice in Accra, suggested Ms Anim further her education in the UK. It was a difficult decision but one from which she has never looked back. Initial training in Hull was followed by stints at London’s Harley Street and at The Princess Grace Hospital before moving to the NHS where she has been for over 30 years.
Once Ms Anim arrived in the UK her potential as an activist was quickly spotted. “I joined the RCN the minute I started training,” she says.
“I was so proactive during clinical grading appeals that the RCN officer asked whether I had thought about activism.”
Ms Anim’s first congress was in 1994, and she was struck by the collective passion she experienced. “People were passionate and I’m passionate about nursing, I’m passionate about care, I’m passionate about making it better for that person in need.”
She continues to fight for greater partnership between management and staff, the empowerment of frontline and minority ethnic nursing professionals and against the negative press that nurses and nursing receive.
“There’s been a huge move towards evidence-based working,” she says. “[Nurses] are managing entire care programmes. They’ve become true professionals in their own boundaries.”
Her proudest moment? Ms Anim finds it hard to choose. “I am proud of coming here from Ghana and dealing with the challenges I faced in the 1970s,” she says. “I’m also proud of my work supporting members as an RCN steward and health and safety representative, winning a merit award and being elected deputy president.”
Today her time is split between her duties as deputy president, union work, RCN stewarding and being on “the frontline” at a sexual health clinic in central London. She also sits on several RCN clinical governance committees: the Ethics Committee, Membership and Representation Committee, Nursing Policy and Practice Committee, and International Committee. And she promotes the work of the RCN, meets members and raises awareness of issues that affect nurses.
The passion she displays for her career, her life and making a difference are palpable. Asked if she has any designs on the presidency role, she replies: “Oh god yes!”