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'I do this because I am still current in this area, but primarily because I enjoy the interaction with students'

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Professor Helen Langton became closely involved in education early in her career

There is something about young people that has always attracted Helen Langton, pro-vice chancellor and executive dean of the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at the University of the West of England.

General nursing training at Guy’s Hospital in London with placements at Great Ormond Street Hospital and Evelina Children’s Hospital confirmed her girlhood dream to work with children. “Both experiences were fantastic,” she says.

After working as a ward sister at Barts in paediatric oncology, she moved into clinical teaching roles at its school of nursing, and began a teaching career.

From 1990-2002, she taught cancer care programmes in Bristol at the School of Nursing (then the College of Health) and migrated with the college into the University of the West of England.

After that, she became associate dean to Coventry University. She then took over as dean of the Faculty of Education, Health and Sciences at the University of Derby for four years before joining UWE in October 2010.

Having enjoyed “fantastic” learning experiences herself, she knows just how important the learning environment is to students.

“Having a good leader or manager on a placement is vital,” she says. “Their attitude in making students feel wanted, needed and loved is crucial to learning.”

While she never expected her career to become so dominated by education, she’s glad it did. She still teaches in paediatric oncology.

“I do this because I am still current in this area and have some expertise to share, and to role model, but primarily because I enjoy the interaction with students, and it helps me remain current with the student experience,” she says.

“If I didn’t teach, then often the only time I’d see students would be when they were in trouble and that would skew my view.”

She says she understands why nurses in practice consider academics can be out of touch. One initiative she is working on with local trusts involves blending the expertise of those in practice with those in academia.

She leaps to defend the quality of nursing education.

“This talk about it being too academic is frustrating,” she admits. “Students spend 50% of their time in clinical practice – that’s at least 2,300 hours during their course. When I am in need of nursing care, I want nurses who are able to use their underpinning knowledge to make the right clinical decisions for my care to give the best outcome.”

Professor Langton is co-chair of the Professional Advisory Board for Nursing and midwifery at the Department of Health, which has been advising the chief nursing officer on workforce matters for two years.

“As part of our work, we have written a number of reports – on learning disabilities, genetics and genomics and midwifery for example. We use these to brief those who don’t know a lot about these areas and have made a difference.”

“I want to be a part of this because I want to ensure that the nursing and midwifery workforce of the future is the right shape and fit for purpose. We must promote nursing as a great profession with diverse career paths across research, academia, leadership and practice.”

  • The Professional Advisory Board is looking for nurses who would like to be involved in its work. To find out more, see
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