UK: Zimbabwean academic wins prestigious award

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By Staff Reporter

Sarah Chitongo (Dress by UK-based Zimbabwean designer Yvonne Yvette)

ZIMBABWEAN Sarah Chitongo has one the 2018 Mary Seacole Award which attracted more than 3,000 entries from across the UK.

The Middlesex University academic described the achievement “a huge honour and a pivotal moment in my career”.

Her winning project looks at experiences of midwives in caring for women from Black Asian Ethnic Minority (BAME) groups on delivery suite high dependency units within London hospitals.

A proud Zimbabwean, Sarah talked to after winning the award.

NZ: First, tell us a bit about yourself.

SC: I am a Midwifery Educator and Technical Clinical Skills Manager in the School of Health and Education at Middlesex University. My role involves shaping and implementation of long-term strategic plans within the technical clinical department, ensuring that these fit within broader functional, academic and University strategies.

I have experience in senior management in midwifery with 18 years clinical experience which I gained in the National Health Service (NHS) as well. I am a specialist advisor to the American Pregnancy Association. I am an ambitious manager who has built a reputation developing and motivating highly skilled staff. My management style focuses on three main things; innovation, quality and staff. Forward thinking and always seeking for better ways of working have always been my driving force.

NZ: What is this award all about?

SC: The Mary Seacole Awards were created in honour of Mary Seacole, the Jamaican/Scottish nurse born in 1805 and celebrated for her bravery in nursing soldiers during the Crimean war from 1853-6, and also for her use of herbal remedies to relieve the symptoms of illnesses such as cholera in Jamaica and Panama. The awards are funded by Health Education England and are awarded in association with Royal College of Midwives, Royal College of Nursing, UNISON and Unite with support from NHS Employers.

The focus of the award is undertaking an outstanding project or other educational/development activity to enhance patient/client-focused care that benefits the health needs of people from Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities. Only a handful of researchers are chosen to receive the Award that goes towards enhancing their communication and leadership skills.

NZ: How do you feel about being one of the winners for 2018 and what does this achievement mean to you?

SC: Mary Seacole’s legacy seeks to tackle inequalities in healthcare. Mary Seacole cast the seeds of diversity in healthcare and it’s a great honour to contribute to this legacy. The outcomes from Black Asian Minority Ethnic Groups remains poor compared to the White British. This is concerning and an exploration of the cause of this health inequality is now a top agenda for the government. I am privileged to contribute in addressing this cause.

NZ: In your view, what does this achievement mean in the broader context of the Zimbabwean Diasporas.

SC: As a Zimbabwean I hope I can inspire other Zimbabweans out there who have brilliant ideas that they would like to bring life. We have the most educated, hardworking Diasporians within the health system and I call upon them to act upon their professional desires.

NZ: Going forward, how is this achievement going to impact and influence you personally and professionally?

SC: The award gives me access to mentors from the Mary Seacole alumni and get direct access to some of the leaders in midwifery and nursing. My mentors will help me develop self-confidence as a practitioner and I plan to mentor future Mary Seacole awardees. I will be able advance my passion of contributing to equitable health service. My Mary Seacole project also feeds into my doctorate project. I am also hopeful that the findings from my study will inform policy formulation and enhance maternity service for black and minority ethnic people.

Professionally this achievement will influence change policy at the highest level so that health gain can be embedded in maternity services for minority communities and wider society. It will encourage positive change and encourage adoption of new ideas, methods and ways of working.

NZ: And, looking into the future, what next for you?

My next steps are to complete my Mary Seacole research project and also complete my doctorate. I plan to publish my work nationally and internationally with the ultimate goal to influence policy makers. I would also like to contribute to the development of better care for expectant mothers in Zimbabwe and reduction of maternal mortality. Maternal health is an important indicator of a country’s national health and socio-economic development and I would like contribute, not only in the United Kingdom, but on the international platform.