Angelina Ankomah from West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust Watford was the winner of the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Midwife of the Year award at last year’s National BAME Health & Care Awards for her decades of service to British healthcare. Here, she describes her early years in the NHS and the barriers she had to overcome, including her position as a role model today.
How did it feel to win BAME Midwife of the Year last year?
It was a complete surprise, albeit a pleasant one, to be nominated and to win as I have been working as a nurse/midwife for the past 20 years and was not aware of the awards. So, I found it quite astonishing to receive the BAME healthcare award. Having said that, it was also gratifying to learn that our work as midwives is being recognised locally as well as nationally.
Right from the beginning, I’ve always had the view of working diligently to provide the best quality of care to all patients I come across. I remember as a junior nursing student, during my first day at nursing college, an Irish lecturer encouraged us to give our best to our patients. She told us to always be mindful that the patients for whom we provide care could be our sister, brother, friend, or uncle, and that they are an extension of us. This has stayed with me throughout my career.
Do you see yourself as a role model for other BAME midwives?
Until I achieved the award, the thought of being a role model had never crossed my mind. This is because I always associated the terminology with someone who had achieved very high accolades and standards in life therefore I never envisaged being referred to as a role model to anyone. I, however, do know and realise that as midwives we provide guidance to students all the time and in the past 20 years, I’ve mentored many midwives who have gone on to do amazing things in their careers.
In my personal life, I’ve had mothers and young people approach me for advice regarding their career choices. I wasn’t aware at the time that people regarded me as having something to offer, and they were willing to ask for advice regarding their prospects. I suppose in that respect, people saw me as a role model.
You’ve been in the healthcare world for two decades, what are the big changes you’ve seen?
In 2006, when I started working in Watford, there were not many colleagues of BAME background in specialist roles, so seeing this change over the years has been very refreshing.
The job itself has evolved and is constantly evolving. As midwives we are constantly learning and improving upon the services we provide, to ensure that midwifery care is always at a high standard. Innovation is key to our progress, and we’ve seen quite a lot of that in recent years and there is still more to come.
Since you won the award, what’s the feedback been like from colleagues?
The feedback has been positive from BAME colleagues, as they’re now seeing one of their own being recognised and appreciated for their work. The motivation among the BAME community within my hospital has improved because they are proud to be associated with what has been achieved.
How challenging has it been working as a midwife during the pandemic?
One challenging aspect during the pandemic was having to incorporate social distancing within healthcare. The practicalities of our job don’t lend themselves well with social distancing in terms of caring for our patients, so that was a huge challenge. There were a lot of anxieties among BAME midwives because of concerns that COVID-19 disproportionately affected staff from BAME backgrounds.
The existing technology used in healthcare doesn’t allow for efficient communication within specialities and we had to use online consultation with some of our patients. Watford is a very diverse community, so having to conduct a consultation whilst dealing with language barriers was extremely challenging.
We’ve had to adapt and think on our feet and be innovative to ensure the same quality of care before the pandemic was provided. What I saw was a lot of planning and thinking and rapid changes to respond to the ongoing updates regarding the management of COVID-19.
Partners of our patients were not allowed into the hospitals due to limited capacity for social distancing and COVID-19 restrictions, so the mothers were coming into antenatal appointments alone. Partners were having to stay in their cars to wait and we were often in three-way consultation for some decisions because the mothers had to contact and include their partners in the consultation. We did our best, but it was quite challenging.
What lessons can the NHS learn from the COVID-19 period to better support its workforce?
The NHS needs to invest in good responsive IT infrastructure. I do know that some hospitals are trying to achieve this, but I do not know whether all hospitals have the same opportunities to better equip their healthcare personnel that way.
We need better facilities and pastoral care for the staff because it can be a very stressful environment. I believe if we are given designated pastoral service, which is responsive to our needs, we would feel listened to and fulfilled, thereby taming the feeling of isolation.
What skills does it take to be a good midwife today, is it about mental resilience?
Without a doubt, mental resilience is so important. You need the emotional strength and emotional intelligence to be able to navigate the complex nature of the job. Midwifery is an extremely rewarding profession however, you need to be willing and prepared to go through challenges and be ready to learn, teach, and evolve. I believe in having professional mentors that you know believe in and recognise your abilities. This is necessary to combat the periods of discouragement and self-doubt which are a real part of this profession.
Being in touch with a mentor or a coach who will remind you of who you are and the belief they have in you will provide the necessary motivation. Some of the newly qualified professionals sometimes struggle with the complexities they come across and the ever-present stressful environment we work in. However, I believe with good support they will make it.
Can you tell me about your career story and any barriers you faced on your way up?
After my secondary school education, I wanted to become an accountant and work in the city. However, there comes a time in one’s life that decisions must be objective so when that time came, I was encouraged by my loved ones to go into nursing.
I started off as a Health Care Assistant (HCA) on an elderly care ward, which helped me understand the process of care within the health profession. During this period, I had the opportunity to observe qualified nurses and learn from them. I went on to study for a Diploma in Adult Nursing at the University of Hertfordshire after which I worked as a staff nurse in a local hospital for three years.
I proceeded to study for my BSc Honours in midwifery and qualified in 2006. I have since been in midwifery at Watford General Hospital until today. My rotation as a junior midwife included all areas of midwifery and then I finally settled on the labour ward, where I became one of the core team members on the delivery suite.
Then, I had the opportunity to undertake a BSc course in management of complex pregnancies and became a coordinator of labour ward/unit bleep holder.
I then took time out of maternity and took a job as a transfusion practitioner in the haematology unit. After about a year, the diabetes specialist post came up and I returned to maternity as a diabetic specialist midwife which I continue to do to this day.
I work with a fantastic team of obstetric doctors, endocrinologists, diabetes nurses, dieticians, and admin support staff who have all contributed to the success of our service leading to me winning an award. I am so grateful to everyone who has been involved in my journey from my student nursing years through to the present day as a specialist midwife.
With regards to barriers, I have had to deal with some level of discrimination which is still prevalent, however, there are ongoing conversations as well as signs of acknowledgement which hopefully will result in a move towards equality.
We are working hard to minimise discrimination in healthcare, and over time I hope this will be achieved through teamwork and effective communication. In my trust at West Herts, we have a very active group called ‘BAME Connect’ which is led by a very proactive group of staff. They are so dynamic in their approach that in West Herts, the BAME community now has a voice and we have been celebrating the yearly Black History Month. We are encouraged to showcase our diverse culture with activities involving discussions, ethnic clothing, and cuisine. I am not sure how many trusts engage with their BAME community in this way.
What is needed to get more ethnic minority staff into leadership roles in UK healthcare?
BAME staff members must continue to strive for excellence in any area they find themselves in. I believe our work, dedication, and diligence will always speak for us therefore we should not give up and assume that certain positions or roles are unattainable. As long as the qualification is met, we should be able to prosper.
Professionals from the ethnic minority group should be encouraged to apply for any senior role in healthcare. They should seek professional development when it is needed, have mentors who will support them, and have good supervision from ethnic minorities in senior roles. We need to learn from and support each other in our roles and together we will see change.
Why are the BAME HCAs important and can they inspire young BAME talent to enter healthcare?
These awards are very important because they lead to exposure and acknowledgement which could be motivating to our professionals whereas in the past it was not there. We don’t often get any exposure. The opportunity to even contribute to this magazine as a winner may help a reader to continue to work hard because you never know where your work will take you. I would like to speak at some academic institutions, to motivate young BAME students to pursue opportunities in healthcare as a career path to serve their community. So, to the BAME community members I say, let’s do the best we can. If you have purpose in your heart to provide good quality work, then you will succeed.
To find out more about the National BAME Health & Care Awards, please click here. To nominate yourself or someone else for an award for 2022’s outing, click here.