Black History Month with Michelle Ruvimbo

To celebrate Black History Month, Practice Placement Facilitator Michelle Ruvimbo, shares her story about her heritage, her nursing career and being part of the BAME network here at Gateshead. 

I would like to give thanks to all health workers who have worked hard during the pandemic. From front line staff, to all those behind the scenes. I would like to pay tribute to health workers from BAME background who lost their lives as a result of Covid-19, serving our NHS. We know that 60% of these healthcare workers who died from COVID were from a BAME background, which is a demographic that only makes up around 22% of the NHS workforce.

My name is Michelle Ruvimbo, I am a proud Black British nurse of Zimbabwean heritage. I was born to a nurse who had qualified two years prior to my birth. She is my true source of inspiration, and the one who introduced me to this incredible career. As I reflect on my early years in Zimbabwe, I had a bird’s eye view of what nursing is about, without the sugar-coated lens of a television show. Their pay was not great, conditions were not the best and resources were not available. I remember the nurses working with so much passion and doing the best they could, given the circumstances. Their commitment to their patients was evident, they showed compassion and courage. Fast forward to 1998. My mother uprooted to the United Kingdom, escaping economic decline from our motherland of Zimbabwe. On arrival to England, she was offered a nursing adaption training course at an NHS hospital. I remember seeing her work hard, completing assignments and her portfolio. She then successfully began working as a Grade D nurse. I heard her talk about her role as a Nurse in the NHS with so much pride and passion.

It is not until 2005 I followed in my mothers’ footsteps. My journey as a student nurse began at University of Northumbria, and so did my journey of working in the NHS. I remember my first placement walking along the corridors of Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Gateshead with a mixture of excitement and nervousness. I was a driven young woman, and I was ready to take on the challenges of being a student nurse with pride. Having moved from the South of England where there were many people who looked like me in comparison to the North East, it was evidence that I stood out as that ‘black student nurse’ as there were not many of us. I continued to give gratitude to all those I met along the way who were supportive, kind and nurturing. This helped me so much to navigate a world where people are discriminated, gaslighted, and face everyday inequalities that students from BAME backgrounds often faced and continue to face.

Without a shadow of doubt in my bone, I knew nursing was the right career path for me. The experience continues to be rewarding as I have had the pleasure of working in teams with a family atmosphere, and with people who have great work ethics and look out for one another. The opportunity to be there for patients, make a difference to their life, and care for them at their most vulnerable is certainly rewarding. I worked for Gateshead NHS Foundation Trust, and later left to train as a Specialist Community Public Health Nurse – Health Visitor.

I returned this year, I am proud to say that I have come back to a more progressive organisation taking Equality, Diversity and Inclusion seriously. This was a significant change for me from the organisation I had left several years before. I joined the BAME staff network that provides a safe space that is supportive. They raise awareness, impact-assess decision making, and enable innovative approaches that helps to make our organisation stronger. I continue to have a sense that I have returned home, where my nursing roots began.

I would like to openly thank all those who have seen and continue to see the potential in me. They have offered a helping hand by coaching and mentoring me. They have also afforded me opportunities that I will not have encountered without their support. Most importantly those who are from White backgrounds as they gave me hope, they are my true definition of what allyship is all about. These individuals were able to stand up and challenge the status quo around social injustice, they openly had anti-oppression conversations. As for me, they are good examples of what leadership values and behaviours look like as recommended by Michael West when he talks about what compassionate leadership should be.

As my nursing journey continues, my lived experiences of being a daughter of an NHS international nurse recruit. I witnessed the highlights of her career, and the lowest such as unfair NMC referral, racial discrimination she experienced at work and sadly inequality when accessing NHS healthcare services. Her sudden death in 2019, has ignited a passion and perhaps paving a new direction in my nursing career.

I am passionate about quality clinical placements and how we can optimise positive learning environments. All the while also focusing on how we can ensure we improve the lived experience of students from BAME backgrounds whilst they are on placement. Given that there is evidence suggesting poor BAME attainment in University.

We have an opportunity more than ever before with the knowledge and information available to us all, we must strive to become more inclusive and reduce inequalities.

Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.

Maya Angelou