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Career Spotlight: Oliver Soriano - His Journey as a Band 8C Head of Nursing & Quality

Nurses are widely known for the compassionate care they deliver aiming to meet the holistic well-being of the patients they look after. Whilst this is true, nurses are also the backbone of the ever evolving healthcare system. They lead to make improvements to the organisation. They inspire others to provide high quality nursing. And they thrive with a high-pressured environment with the ability to cope with any adversity and setbacks. Ultimately, nurses are great team players which make them good leaders.

But what does it really take to be a nursing leader in the UK?

We would like to feature Oliver Soriano, a Band 8 Head of Nursing & Quality for Psychological Medicine and Older Adults Directorate of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. He is also one of the Mental Health Representatives of the RCN and the interim chairperson of Philippine Nurses Association UK.

Oliver was one of the first few Filipino nurses who arrived in the UK and proved to the NHS that Filipinos are committed to provide excellent care and possess an integrity to lead an organisation. We’ve asked Oliver about his nursing career journey, his thoughts on leadership and nursing in the UK and some tips on how you can progress the nursing career ladder.

Can you tell us more about yourself?

I am Oliver Soriano. This year marks my 29th year as a nurse and has been working in the NHS for the past 23 years. Currently, I am the Head of Nursing & Quality for Psychological Medicine and Older Adults Directorate of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. My role is focused on providing overall nursing and quality standards across our older adult services, both inpatient and community teams, as well as Memory Services and Care Home Intervention Teams. I also provide nursing leadership across a variety of services including National Specialist Services for Neuropsychiatry, Mother and Baby Unit, Eating Disorder Unit, Anxiety Disorder, Psychosexual services for inpatient, community, day care and outpatient teams.

I graduated in 1992 at United Doctor Medical Centre. Soon after getting my registration, I was able to volunteer at the Philippine National Red Cross NHQ and later became one of their Safety Instructors. This gave me the skills and knowledge in facilitating training in Basic Life Support, Standard and Advanced First Aid, Swimming courses in different settings across the Philippines - from local government authorities to private companies. This role also moulded my skills and paved the way for more career opportunities—particularly in the academe.

I became a clinical instructor in 1994, working in Centro Escolar University teaching Foundation of Nursing and later transferred to the Far Eastern University - Institute of Nursing where my focus of teaching was in mental health.

I arrived in the UK in 1998. My first work placement was in an acute working-age mental health unit. I later took a conversion course to mental health registration via the King's College London - Florence Nightingale Institute of Nursing and Midwifery. I completed this course in 2002 - which opened a lot of opportunities for me to focus and work in a mental health setting.

I am a dual registered nurse (RGN/RMN) in the UK and had the opportunity to work across different mental health clinical settings across the NHS - from inpatient wards to community settings, to A&E liaison service to crisis home treatment teams.

Aside from my work, I am an avid swimmer but pandemic has proved this as a challenge for the past year. If given ample time with my busy schedule, I am also a good cook and often likes to entertain and be with close friends. I have been with my partner for the past 15 years who also works in mental health NHS service. Travelling is also another pursuit that I aim to do regularly as this allows me to have a good break from work and be able to indulge my interests in local history, culture and tradition.

What were the challenges as a Filipino/BAME nurse leader working in the UK? What did you learn from it?

As the first group of internationally recruited nurses from the Philippines, one of the biggest challenges our group faced was to prove to the NHS that they made the right decision in recruiting Filipino nurses to work in the UK's national health care settings. We received the standard induction and support to go through our Adaptation Period and within 6 months - all 28 of us passed. This has opened that opportunity for other NHS trusts to start recruiting nurses from the Philippines.

In my 23 years of working in the UK, I have been presented with a lot of opportunities where I had to step outside my comfort zone. These did not only challenge my ability, but also developed my skills and knowledge in the field – both clinically and strategically.

My career journey was not easy- it took perseverance, dedication, and commitment. I have also encountered situations where my capabilities were challenged and questioned. One thing that helped get through these hurdles is my belief towards my capability and its value to others. Even if it’s difficult, I have to believe in what I can do & what my work does for other people.

How do you balance the demands of your personal life and work?

Knowing my boundaries and limitations has helped me strike a good balance between my life & work commitments. I also have to equip myself with practical tools, create and maintain an easy yet healthy routine. Having a “confidante” or a “critical friend” also helps me especially during my tough days. I am blessed to have a circle of friends who not only listens and acts as my “soundboard” but also re-directs and gives me more focus as I achieve my goals.

What motivated you to move up the career ladder?

There’s a famous African proverb-- “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together”. This has caught my attention and got stuck in my head. I always believe that my journey is not mine alone. I am motivated with knowing that I am making a difference to other people’s lives- whether it is a patient that I look after or a colleague/team I support or work with.

As I have said, my journey has not been easy. But I am committed to better myself. I can share and use my story, including my learning experiences to inspire and guide others in reaching their goals.

Do you have any tips for Nurses who want to reach the Band 8? Are there any courses or skill sets they need to have to be ready in the said role/level?

First, you need to understand what nursing pathway you want to progress or the end goal you want to achieve. Are you leaning towards a management/strategic role or a nursing/quality role? This will help you identify the different courses/training/workshops that you can aim for. If you aim to go for a nursing/quality role, courses like the Advanced Nurse Practitioner course will be vital. If you want to pursue management/strategic roles, an Apprenticeship Level 7 on Masters in Business Management is also available. In both pathways, it is important to have a local and nationally recognised leadership training.

Secondly, have a Personal Development Plan (PDP). Aim to set your PDP in a SMART way. But more importantly, identify who are the people that can help you achieve this. Sometimes it is not always about attending courses or training. You can also set goals in shadowing someone who is currently doing the post that you want to aspire for or spending a day to the team or area that you want to have an experience of.

Lastly, always be on the look-out of what opportunity is available within your Trust or beyond. Always put yourself forward, do not be afraid to step-in to something new especially if it will help you build your skills set. This also allows you to network with other colleagues and take this as an opportunity to recognised and be valued.

Do you have any advice to the Filipino nurses especially to those who are striving to excel in their nursing careers?

As mentioned, setting your goals is imperative in the process of stepping up to progress your career. Do you remember that time when you are asked the question “Where do you see yourself in 3-5 years' time?” Take this as part of your inspirational thought, and work on it.

Always plan with a view of achieving it. Set a mindset that whatever you plan, there will be people along the way that you can approach to guide and support you.

Look for a mentor or a coach. They do not have to be in the same place that you work. If your mentor/coach works outside your clinical/management realms, it can still work as they will be able to give a fresh pair of eyes to what you already know.

Be open to the challenges and feedback and allow yourself to be open to other people’s views. It does not mean that you have to change your view and decision, but these ideas, suggestions or recommendations can help you make better decisions.

I remember the feedback I received after failing to secure the 8a post that I was not “operational and business minded” enough to take the post. I was baffled on such feedback. This led me to reflect and dig deeper on the reason why I am in this nursing role and how I can carve and progress my professional career. All throughout this journey, I still believe that I am in this nursing role because I want to make a difference in someone's life, to help them recover from the health challenges they face and ensure to provide compassionate, excellent person-centred care.

As I look back and ask myself how I got through adversity in my career. I lived by the values of hard work and placing my patients and the team first. This opened the door for me to find great mentors who believed in me and joined me in my journey. They’re the ones who have not only guided and supported me but also challenged me, helped me to stay grounded and be confident that I can achieve my goals.

Oliver is also the interim Chairperson of Philippine Nurses Association UK. He has also shared with us some exciting news about the association.

Can you tell us more about PNA UK? What was the motivation behind restarting the association?

The Philippine Nurses Association - UK (PNA-UK) is the leading professional nursing association of Philippine nurses in the United Kingdom. It is a non-profit professional organisation and a registered UK charity with the UK Charities Commission.

PNA-UK was established to represent the Philippine nurses across the UK to enable and strengthen the Philippine nurses voice across the wider UK nursing agenda. The association was re-invigorated in 2020 following the wider concerns raised on the disproportionate treatment and support that Filipino health care workers were treated on the first wave of the pandemic. A like-minded group of Filipino nurse leaders convened to put a plan on how we can best represent our concern to the NHS and to the wider government body. This brings forth the action on where PNAUK is.

Are there any projects lined up on the coming months?

This year, PNAUK has set up a wide range of webinars looking into helping colleagues in building their psychological resilience following this pandemic, supporting newly arrived nurses in their transition and adaptation to the national health service ways of working as well as allowing a cultural dimension on the work that we do. We also aim, if restriction allows for us to convene in bigger venue, to hold the 2nd World Café Convention in October 2021.

Overall our aim this year, aligns with the WHO's objective in working in partnership and join up in the celebration of 2021 as the International Year of the Health and Care Workers.

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