I am Owen, Professor of Nursing and Intellectual Disability.
I put people at the centre of everything. My students, collaborators, and people with learning disabilities. I am not afraid to challenge the status quo and will persevere to drive change and improve practice.
I do this to make sure people with learning disabilities get access to healthcare, helping them to lead happy, healthy lives.
I’ve always wanted to be a nurse, I don’t remember ever wanting to be anything else. I had two brothers with learning disabilities, who both died when they were young children. I find learning disability nursing really exciting, it gives me so many opportunities to make decisions and make a difference in the lives of people with learning disabilities.
I’ve often wondered what my career would’ve been like if I’d stayed in England. But when I got back, this was home. I’ve worked across Northern Ireland, but I’ve spent most of my time living in Derry~Londonderry. And to me, that gives a really clear focus to what I do. I can get very passionate about developing things in Northern Ireland and making sure Northern Ireland is represented in the UK. It was about developing nursing, but it was also about a new future.
We pick practice-based learning with people with learning disabilities. But we always pick areas where people with learning disabilities are able to show their skills. And the students go to work in those areas because it’s really important that they see all the things that people with learning disabilities can do. So if they then meet somebody with learning disabilities who’s unwell, they have a comparison they make. We have much more success by putting people in contact with people with learning disabilities than we do by standing in front and teaching the class.
The Health Passport improves access to healthcare as it helps people with learning disabilities be understood. We have research now that shows it makes a difference, and having one consistent version across all of Northern Ireland has been a big part of that. It was very, very important to involve people with learning disabilities in the development of a passport, to get them to test it, to check it said what they wanted. To make sure it has enough information, but not too much.
I’ve been really interested in what I’ve been able to do in nursing over the years. Setting up specialist practice courses, introducing practice learning in learning disability into all of our nursing programmes at an undergraduate level, to teach learning disabilities on postgraduate courses that normally wouldn’t have had it, to have people with learning disabilities in those courses and the teams planning those courses. If I look back, the thing I’m most proud of is raising the profile of nursing and learning disability.
I had the opportunity to put in a tender for a competence test centre with the Nursing and Midwifery Council, for nurses who had trained outside of Europe to work in the UK. We won it and started off with examining maybe 25 candidates a month, now we’re examining over 800 candidates a month. To me, those are the things that give me the buzz, doing things that haven’t been possible before.
I used to have a manager who would always ask ‘what’s keeping you awake at night?’ And when I’m trying to influence someone I sit down and think what’s keeping them awake at night, and how can I help them sleep better? So I’m always trying to present what I want to do in a way that it will help them achieve their objectives
To me, the core of what I do is about people. Nursing isn’t about the condition, it’s about the person. And there are challenges in doing that because sometimes when you’re talking about people with learning disabilities, there’s a lot of assumptions made that people with learning disabilities can’t do things.