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Career Spotlight: Mitchell Fernandez, Deputy Chief Nurse

Mitchell Fernandez is one of the first Filipino nurses to achieve a Band 9 post in the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK. He started as a Health Care Assistant in the NHS in 2002 and is now appointed as Band 9 Deputy Chief Nurse. Not only is this a great achievement for Mitchell, but also for all of us Filipino nurses. It shows that we are recognised for our competency and commitment to the UK’s healthcare system.

Let us get to know Mitchell, as he shares with us his journey and the lessons he learned along the way.

What was your nursing experience back in the Philippines?

My experience include working in general wards and emergency services before coming to the UK. Aside from being a registered nurse, I was also a Commissioned Officer in the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP). This was after completion of the public safety training course in the Philippines Fire National Training Institute. During my time in BFP, I was appointed as Regional Chief in Emergency Medical and Rescue Services. My background in emergency services and management of teams came in very handy in my varied roles in the UK.

How did your UK Nursing career start? And tell us about your journey leading to Band 9.

I emigrated to the UK back in 2002 as a dependent of my wife who is also a nurse. I started as a Health Care Assistant in the Respiratory ward. Unlike current times, where the process of becoming a UKRN is straightforward, it took me 2 years to reach Band 5. Instead of the OSCE, I had to complete an adaptation program to become a fully registered UK Nurse.

I moved around various units after receiving my NMC pin, from respiratory to acute assessment to HDU, and took on highly specialised roles. I became an Infection Control Nurse specialist after completion of a BSc (Hons) in Health Protection. Additionally, I completed postgraduate courses in Public Health, achieving a merit, whilst working in the community services. A while later, I saw a posting for a secondment role as a matron and luckily got the job. From then on, I took on various leadership roles from Matron to Head of Nursing roles in various London NHS Trusts. Back in 2018, I assumed a deputy chief nurse role in the Midlands but due to my family being in London, I decided to move back. I have had further various managerial posts and portfolios from one Trust to another.

At the time of writing, I am an Associate Chief Nurse in a Central London NHS Foundation Trust. This month, I am moving again outside London to take on the Band 9 Deputy Chief Nurse role.

What are the notable challenges you have faced? How did you overcome them?

With nearly 20 years of experience in the UK, I have faced a lot of challenges and I believe this resonates with many of my fellow Filipino nurses.

One of the initial struggles I experienced was the language barrier. Sometimes, we do not have the confidence to speak out because we get intimidated by the language, including the accent. It may be because of the fear that we might not understand or might not be understood. What I learned is — just speak out! Do not let this be a barrier. What you need is the experience and exposure. You will gain more confidence as you go along.

Another notable challenge I have faced was career progression. I hear some people say that Filipino nurses are not driven by their careers, that we are content at being comfortable in our current situation and are afraid of pushing our limits. Work. Go home. That’s it. We don’t dream beyond that. I don’t believe this to be the case. Yes, in my journey, it was not always successful, and some experiences may validate the notion that it’s better to be comfortable and safe in the status quo. However, I used all my missteps as a learning opportunity to try again and move forward.

Some say that Filipino Nurses are not career driven. Would you agree on this?

I disagree that Filipinos are not ambitious. I have seen and met Filipino nurses who are also driven by their careers. Some are already progressing in their careers and are continuing to aspire for bigger roles. But I cannot say that our career journeys have been easy and straightforward. Just like most people, I too, have experienced rejections and failures. But instead of feeling down, I personally take each rejection as a learning experience. I am a better and more resilient person – and a stronger leader – because of these learning experiences.

There are also some Filipino nurses who are happy and content with specialising or being an expert in their own field. There is nothing wrong with being a specialist as this can help you build your credibility. But sometimes, we care too much that we cannot let go. We try to control and do things ourselves.

As I progressed in my role, I learned to delegate and trust the people around me. Trusting the team is, importantly, a way of empowering them. Aside from this, you also need to be strategic and more politically aware.

I could sum up my advice into three things that influence career progression: Skill, Hill, and Will.

Skill: You need to ensure that you meet all the essential requirements and person specification for the next job you are aspiring towards. Explore the job description and prepare yourself for the next post in your career ladder.

Hill: You need to identify barriers and challenges to your progression. Be politically aware. If the environment you are working in inhibits your progress, need to think about getting out of the box and moving yourself out.

Will: You need to be ambitious and express your desire to move up. Grab every opportunity including moving out of your comfort zone. A ‘can do’ attitude and initiative always makes a difference.

We hear stories of Filipinos being bullied or have experienced racism even in their own workplaces. What are your thoughts on these issues?

Unfortunately, these issues occur and are still happening even today. However, unlike before, we now have more awareness, which allows the conversation to open up and the issue to be raised.

If you feel that you are being bullied or discriminated against, we need to call it out. If we tolerate it, then we ourselves are promoting it. But, at the same time, we also need to know how to approach the situation. Do it the right way. Know who to go to in the workplace, such as the HR team and Freedom to Speak out Guardians. There are policies dedicated to protecting the dignity of each one of us at work. You can also go to the union or any Filipino associations for support and advice. I used to be a union steward and appreciated the benefits of having a union. They can give you advice on what to do and how to handle this type of situations. This way you don’t feel lost and unsupported.

What do you think makes Filipinos an asset in the health care industry in the UK?

We, Filipinos, bring a lot to the industry. Most of us already have work experience before coming to the UK. We bring our diverse knowledge and experiences. Most notably, we bring our family values and admirable strong work ethic. Our uniqueness is our asset. We add to the pool of knowledge skill and experience that makes the NHS diverse and steadfast.

What lessons in your career that you can share with us your fellow Filipino nurses?

Don’t let your failures define you. Treat each failure or rejection as a learning experience and an opportunity to be better.

Get out of your comfort zone. If you want to progress, especially in the NHS, you need to widen your horizon and challenge yourself. In my journey, I ventured into different specialisms and even moved to various locations. I changed roles and transferred from London to the Midlands, and then to the outskirts of London. It helped me understand and see the bigger picture.

Build your network and forge positive relationships with your colleagues in your organisation. We are fortunate nowadays as there are more nursing associations and community groups available. Start networking. Join these groups where you could possibly find people who can become your mentors. Mentors are valuable sources of wisdom, which they have garnered from experience, and what they pass on to us could help us in our own career paths.

Seize opportunities and be brave. Leadership opportunities do not come often. I remember early on in my career when I saw a secondment matron opportunity. I took the chance and applied for it and this paved the way for me to get more leadership roles. Looking back there were many challenges and struggles at that point, but had I succumbed to the negativity, I believe that I would have been stuck. I know that I would be asking myself “what if?”.

Mitchell’s story is one of many lessons. Filipino Nurses in the UK all start from the very beginning and we work our way up but sometimes things don’t work out and its easier to give up. His success was not easy but with his strong determination he took his chances and progressed forward. If anything, I hope Mitchell’s story should tell us that it is possible that we can rise to the top--- from a Healthcare Assistant to Band 9 Deputy Chief Nurse.


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