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Meet Nazia Hussain – Saluting our Sister as part of Black History Month

yellow ceiling with rainbow coloured glass with blue sky above sheffield children's hospital building
26 October 2023


smiling lady in red top and grey headscarf

Meet Nazia Hussain, Speech and Language Therapy Assistant at Sheffield Children’s. Here she shares her thoughts on role models, what drew her to her role, challenges and tips for NHS leaders.

What first drew you to a role in the NHS? 

“I moved into a specialist secondary school after finding 1:1 work with SEN children in mainstream school really motivating. I was drawn to helping the kids overcome challenges and barriers to participation in school life, and the wider world.

“I remember seeing a lady walk into my class and take a child out for therapy. Both of them returned smiling, and I was really curious about her role, and what they had been doing.  That was it, once I knew her role was more therapeutic, I knew which direction I was heading in. I felt being within therapy services, meant I could focus solely on the therapy needs and act on something that I was becoming more and more passionate about. 

“Fast forward six years later and I now work closely in the same team as that very same lady who got me curious in the first place. She’s a wonderful colleague and I thank her for taking the time to speak to me and tell me all about her role, and inspiring me to get involved in my current line of work. She never made me feel like there was no place for someone like me.  To that colleague I say “thank you”.

What does this year’s Black History Month theme of ‘Saluting our Sisters’ bring to mind for you, in relation to the NHS? 

“It makes me feel so proud of the work we do and the contribution we make but also makes me think about making sure we are recognised for this work in the same way others are.  Growing up the lack of black and minoritized ethnic role models was ever present and it wasn’t until much later into adult life that I realised just how much this was down to bias and racism and not lack of role models to begin with.

“The lasting legacy and contributions of people like Mary Eliza Mahoney, who was the first professionally trained and licensed Black nurse, and who also fought against discrimination in the NHS, is someone I think about as my motivation to continue standing up against racism. One thing I can guarantee is my children know all about Eliza Mahoney, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and people like Dame Elizabeth Anionwu.”

What reflections do you have on challenges and achievements in your role?

“I would say it is challenging sometimes to have high aspirations or to want to achieve amazing things because sometimes you are faced with colleagues, patients or other professionals who are a barrier to that and sometimes without realising they are doing so.  They may see you, but don’t see someone like you holding positions of power, high status, even respect at times. 

“Your ability to do things sometimes feels like it has a limit placed on it, one that you have not set yourself but one that maybe there because it’s based on stereotypes, prejudice and just low expectations of what you as an individual have to offer or are capable of.  It is difficult at times to know when to challenge this thinking and when to brush things off, dust yourself off and get back up as they say.

“However, through the challenges that my race can bring is also the silver lining of being able to educate people about bias. I have the opportunity to speak out, to raise awareness and to challenge why I have to face challenges that shouldn’t be there. 

“Sheffield Children’s has been there to support me to be a part of the Race Equality Network (REN) and to go back to my service and make a real change and be an advocate for patients/colleagues and families and speak on behalf of them.”

What advice would you give others aspiring to an NHS role similar to your own? 

“Know your own capability, believe in yourself and follow your own goals.  I heard someone once say when you feel small, when you feel different or isolated, that is the time to put your shoulders out, chin up and make space.  The world may not always have space for you or make you feel like you have space to be you but you can make space for yourself.”

Is there one thing or type of support you wish you had had while progressing in your career?

“Role models! People who looked like me working in my role and encouraging me to be aspirational.  I am keen to change this and to help those thinking about their career paths to therefore know that there are people of all backgrounds working in the NHS.”

What would be your message to NHS leaders on their role in tackling racism in the service? 

“Racism is real and it should never be something we are afraid to discuss. Reducing the amount of time given to the conversation is a dangerous direction to head in, you risk getting close to silencing the victims of racism and believing we live in a colour blind world.

“Instead recognise that whilst we have come a long way from the days of segregation and physical/ verbal discrimination, it still exists. It exists in its new evolved often very subtle format through personal biases and prejudice. The racism and discrimination that many people are victim to in today’s society is much more elusive and difficult to prove than many years ago so this is also worth thinking about.

“It is something that can manifest itself into public services and institutions and therefore can have far reaching implications.  It becomes very easy for treatment and attitudes to vary because professionals may have a negative bias towards a particular group and this affects their clinical or professional judgement. Therefore we need to work extra hard to be consciously aware and to remove any signs of it or the potential for it to take place.

“A willingness to listen to victims and not discredit their version of events simply because it is difficult for us as leaders to have to accept is so important.  I would say to the leaders of the NHS – “Don’t do what you are comfortable doing, don’t do what you feel the law needs you to do, go beyond this and do what is right for the future generation”.  As leaders of the NHS, use the power you have to make a positive change. That is, to create an organisation that recognises difference but also places equal value on all the differences we all have.

“The most basic humane thing we can do is to acknowledge we are all part of humanity.”

Thank you Nazia for sharing such thought-provoking points and taking part in Black History Month! 

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