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Our Stories: International Women's Day

For this year's International Women's Day, the theme of the campaign is Inspire Inclusion, and some of our staff and partners have told us about their shared experiences and what has inspired them in their professional and working lives within the NHS. You can read their experiences below.

Alice Wiseman - Director of public health for Gateshead

In my role as Director of Public Health, I have a statutory duty to protect and promote the health of the population, fuelled by a commitment to equity and social justice. As we celebrate International Women's Day, I find strength in solidarity and authenticity, urging fellow women to forge ahead with determination, and courage to amplify their voices. Together, we challenge tradition and bias as we work towards a future where every individual thrives.

Sally Smith – Associate director for lived experience, North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board

"I wish I could tell my younger self that one day I will feel comfortable in my own skin and proud of who I am and what I do. I would tell 19 year old me that what I perceive as my weaknesses will become my strengths."

Everyday I am inspired and motivated by other service users, survivors and peer workers who use their experiences of pain and suffering to influence change and improve care for others and protect and uphold peoples human rights.

Someone who has inspired me in my life is Jacqui Dillon, the former chair of the national hearing voices network. After speaking with her in 2013, when I was mental health patient volunteering with a local NHS trust, she shared her own lived experience of suffering and of using mental health services.

She has subsequently spent her career working in and with the NHS as a campaigner, writer and activist to bring about change.

Hearing her speak was a life changing experience and helped me reframe my 20 years of being in and out of psychiatric hospital as not something shameful but as experiences that have utility and power in improving mental healthcare for others. Since meeting Jacqui, I have worked in lived experience roles in the NHS and am now the associate director for lived experience in NENC ICB.

I have also learned in my time that being different is a good thing and my sensitivities and ways in which I struggle, help me be compassionate and connect with other people.

I think the best advice I have had is to bring my whole self to work, that being authentic gives other people permission to do the same.

Emma Silver Price – Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne & Wear NHS Foundation Trust

10 years ago I left my home, friends and family in South Africa to start a new life in the UK. I was 20 years old and moved to a new continent by myself, with nothing but £1,000 in my pocket that I had earned waitressing. I was born and raised in South Africa right when Apartheid was abolished and have seen first-hand the devastating effects of discrimination. My life experiences have always fuelled my passion for equity, diversity & inclusion, and I continue to ingrain it through every strand of my life.

I do this by acknowledging that I can never truly ‘walk in someone else’s shoes’, and recognising the lived experience of those around me. In turn, I can bring many different viewpoints to the tables I am privileged enough to sit at.

I champion inclusion within CNTW throughout every minute in my role as Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Officer. I have the pleasure of working across many different departments, and meeting the many extremely inspiring staff we have within the organisation. I use my lived experience and the experiences of those around me to continuously add to my ‘toolbox of knowledge’, whilst constantly striving to better myself.

I have lived and learned a whole lot over the past decade, I have also lost and gained along the way. I will never underestimate the courage it takes to leave everything behind in search of better opportunities. In the spirit of inspiring inclusion, my favourite quote that I carry with me in everyday life is,

for all the tables that refuse to seat us, we’ll build new tables and pull up a seat for everyone who arrives after us.” ~ Rupi Kaur (from the film Rise)

Tracy Smith - Workforce development officer, Health Equity and Inclusion programme, North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board

After a lengthy career in the Women's Royal Naval Service then the Royal Navy, from 1989 to 2012, I saw many changes in service that involved improving equality, diversity, and inclusion. The experiences throughout my career instilled a strong work ethos to offer the best I possibly could and succeed. I encountered some of the most challenging situations and experiences not only physically but mentally and emotionally. Those experiences supported me to build resilience, overcome and work through challenges and appreciate the power of a cohesive and capable team who are trained to work together.

Beginning a new career in the NHS was a challenging but exciting time to be part of and learn something new. I felt prepared for the knock backs that came with job-searching and understood I had to learn as much as I could, quickly, to feel I could contribute in a meaningful way. Although I started at Band 2, which was quite disappointing that was all I was able to secure after numerous interviews, being told this was because I had no NHS experience, I took a chance in the role and set about learning as much as I could. This proved worthwhile, my experience was acknowledged, and I was given opportunity to fast-track several bands higher within months. My work ethos and resilience had again supported me through this difficult time.

I truly believe the training and challenging experiences I encountered during my service career has prepared me and given me the courage for many things, including a career change, motherhood, and marriage, alongside a continued determination to do my best no matter what life throws at me.

The advice I would give to my younger self if the given the chance; never underestimate the power of learning, being out of your comfort zone or situations that challenge your skill, ability and at times, your sanity. They make you stronger, more resilient, and offer talent that will last a lifetime.

Teresa Griffiths - CBE ARRC, Non-Executive Director for North Cumbria Integrated Care Foundation Trust

Teresa is an executive leadership coach, speaker and business consultant, the Chair for the national charity Nurse Lifeline and trustee for the Defence Medical Welfare Service (DMWS), Scottish Veterans Residents (SVR) and Trauma UK. She graduated as a nurse from St. Bartholomew’s hospital in 1988 and still holds her registration.

Teresa recently left the Royal Air Force after 27 years at the rank of Group Captain having broken many glass ceilings. As a specialist Aeromedical Evacuation Nursing Officer, she deployed across the world to some of the most complex and challenging environments.

Teresa has led at all organisational levels and is skilled in recognising and nurturing individual strengths for the collective achievement of strategic goals. As a medical planner she was responsible for the medical plans for operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, supporting global UN missions and was the RAF medical lead for the Ebola crisis in 2014. As Clinical Director for overseas Defence Primary Healthcare in 2020 Teresa also led the Covid-19 response, responsible for 13 overseas bases.  One of her greatest leadership achievements was relocating Defence’s Rehabilitation centre from Headley Court to Stanford Hall when she was the Commanding Officer (CEO).

For her leadership Teresa has been awarded the Queens Commendation for Valuable Service (QCVS), the Associate Royal Red Cross (ARRC), the OBE and CBE. She lives in the Lake District, spending any precious spare time in the fells with her rescue dogs; ‘Woolfie’ from Transylvania and ‘Simba’ from Cyprus.

Lisa Taylor, Health and Wellbeing Programme Director, VONNE

As the Health and Wellbeing Programme Director at VONNE (Voluntary Organisations’ Network North East), I am committed to championing the vital role of women in driving positive change.

VONNE is an organisation which is dedicated to supporting and amplifying the voices of the voluntary, community, and social enterprise sector in the North East. On International Women's Day, we celebrate the resilience, innovation, and leadership of women across all sectors, amplifying their voices and advocating for gender equality in health and beyond.

Helen Ford - Health and Wellbeing Support Manager - North East, Office for Health Improvements & Disparities

Originally growing up on a farm in Cheshire, I relocated to the North East to pursue my academic journey at Newcastle University. There, I completed both my undergraduate degree and my master’s, immersing myself in the vibrant community and falling in love with the region’s beautiful countryside and sweeping coastline.

I was drawn to working in public health, by the opportunity to make a tangible difference in people’s lives. In my current role as the Health and Wellbeing Support Manager at the Office of Health Improvement and Disparities, North East, I am privileged to work at the intersection of health, equity, and inclusion, with the aim of tackling health inequalities across the region.

As a keen tennis player and feminist, Serena Williams has and continues to inspire me by her: athletic excellence, great resilience, and perseverance, being a role model for body positivity, advocacy for gender and racial equality, breaking barriers. 

“Every woman’s success should be an inspiration to another. We’re strongest when we cheer each other on.” Serena Williams.

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