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Nurse First – creating a movement of frontline innovators

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Ever wanted to know how you can change healthcare for the better? Want to learn how to take a project from concept to execution? Need to boost your self-confidence in developing innovative approaches to your work?

You could be a candidate for The Nurse First Programme, a 12-month leadership initiative designed to help health professionals (not just nurses) working directly with patients or clients in the community. It is aimed at those who are not in senior managerial positions but would like to promote change or innovation, or those who are not content with the way services are currently delivered and are not afraid to challenge the system.

I am one of 24 community health care professionals in the first cohort of the programme, which started last October and is due for completion in September. I am a health visitor working in a deprived area of London.

Like all other candidates on the programme, I will attend 21 days (seven blocks of three days) of residential training. Through professional coaching, peer support, access to expert advisors and some of the UK’s leading innovators and social entrepreneurs, we will develop creative problem-solving skills and resilience.

During the programme, we have to undertake a project, taking an idea from concept to making it real and fully funded by the end of 12 months. We are taught how to get the resources we need, build alliances, how to communicate and work collaboratively with other community groups and how to overcome resistance and deal with sceptics. Other topics covered include: idea development, project management, advanced presentation skills, getting funding from public and private sector and media skills.

I also work as a coach helping individuals and small businesses to enhance their performance by increasing their motivation and learn how to set and achieve their goals. I am a non-conformist, always seeking new and better ways to do things. I applied for the Nurse First programme because of my passion for enabling others to achieve their full potential and working with children and families and feel I can help more children and families succeed by developing the professionals who work with them. My vision is one that empowers and enables health visitors to put children and families at the core of the service.

The coalition government has promised to increase the number of health visitors by 4,200 by 2015. However, not a lot has been mentioned about retaining currently practising health visitors. My project focuses on the local delivery on the health visitor implementation plan - a call to action to expand and strengthen services. It aims to increase health visiting capacity and delivery, improve the morale of those working in this aspect of nursing, increasing their retention and helping recruit people with the right mindset to the profession. Over the first three modules I have developed and refined my project idea. Designing and delivering a transformational leadership programme that incorporates coaching, supervision, goal setting, motivation mapping and action learning that enables health visitors to adopt a can-do mindset, working with commissioners to shape the local delivery of the Healthy Child Programme. The programme will be evaluated against staff morale, productivity, client satisfaction and cost and reports and articles written to share best practice. 

We also have to produce a business plan for our idea and a presentation on how it was implemented. On the successful completion of the programme, we will be awarded a Postgraduate Diploma in Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

I have also improved my personal effectiveness, creativity and innovation and am on the way to achieving a couple of my goals for the programme – increasing my confidence and writing for publications. My other goals include developing skills in public speaking, media, business and finance, project management, entrepreneurship and influencing boards/stakeholders.

Later, we will focus on raising the funding and getting organisational support and then there will be a module on executing the idea. All the Nurse First participants have to keep a reflective journal, which will form part of the programme assessment. This is a habit I am really enjoying because it has contributed greatly to my growth and development.

I will urge any registered healthcare professional who is working directly with patients or clients in the community to apply for the Nurse First programme. The closing date for the next round of applications is Thursday April 12. Interviews for shortlisted applicants will be held from April 30 to May 4 2012; with the first residential beginning in Scotland in June 2012. For more information visit or

Ruth Oshikanlu is a nurse, midwife and practising health visitor in Tower Hamlets. She is also a coach and the managing director of Goal Mind ( She works with individuals to uncover their key motivators, analyse their motivations and coach them through to maximum performance. She will be sharing new insights with our readers in our Leadership Academy in Nursing Times and on

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