#SalutingOurSisters: Gerry McMurdie shares her career story this Black History Month
20 Oct 2023
5 min read
October is Black History Month, and this year’s focus is on #SalutingOurSisters – celebrating the achievements of Black women. In honour of this we’re dedicating our #GoodNewsFriday in October to sharing the stories of Black women working in social care. This week we hear from Gerry McMurdie, Health and Social Care Advisor, Liaison Group.
Since January, this year I’ve been working as a Health and Social Care Advisor at the Liaison Group. A key part of this is supporting both the NHS and local authorities within integrated care systems (ICSs).
It’s a fitting role for me as my professional and personal experience has spanned both health and social care, and it really allows me to pull on that wide range of knowledge and experience I’ve garnered over the past 35 years or so.
I started my career in health and social care as a Registered Mental Nurse (RMN) as they were called then, back in 1985. It was a quite different world in mental health care at this time – we had no computers, no internet, and we still had the legacy of the old large psychiatric institutions in most towns and cities.
I trained in a large institution but as I qualified, they were starting to close and there had been a shift towards providing mental health care in the community.
I worked in psychiatric nursing for around 13 years, across a mixture of inpatient and community services. I eventually reached my professional goal at the time of becoming a Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) working in a senior role, but I didn’t find the role as fulfilling as expected, I became more conscious of the impact of race in mental health, and worked with a small informal group to raise awareness and drive change , but we had limited agency and influence due to our junior roles at the time.
I decided to move into the world of adult social care working as a care manager in a newly created team that had been developed to improve the access and experience of the local Black and Asian communities. We were a small team working across a county, and very conscious of the focus our roles would attract. We were able to put into action inclusive and compassionate social care practice for all the people who were drawing upon care. Our focus was keep the person and/or families at the heart of what we did in order to support them to be able to draw upon good care and support which was culturally sensitive and appropriate. In reality this often led to having to be an assertive advocate by challenging myths, misunderstandings and discrimination; we endeavoured to practice fairness and equity for all the people we supported regardless of their background.
I then had several care management positions including a new role which was created when the Mental Capacity Act (MCA) came into force, which was a role I really enjoyed and provided an opportunity to be part of something that would have influence to people who were often marginalised due to one or more “labels”.
I then moved back into the NHS to lead the work on the new National Dementia Strategy, this also enabled me to draw upon my mental health nursing and lived experience as one of my parents had been recently diagnosed with vascular dementia. The was the first national strategy for dementia, and there was a lot of energy and some dedicated funding to support real improvements. I decided to take the opportunity to broaden my professional experience and seized the opportunity to work in the independent care home and charity sector in senior management positions, which gave me both challenges and opportunities for personal and professional growth.
My current role at Liaison Care enables me to draw on an eclectic career spanning health and social care, as well as lived experience as a parent carer and carer.
In 2020 the world for everyone changed due to COVID-19, and I was frightened and deeply troubled about the impact this new disease appeared to be particularly having upon people from Black and Asian communities. My role become 100% remote overnight and switched to operational support to help our care home colleagues , but I wanted to do more ; then in July 2022, I volunteered to join the newly formed Black and Asian Communities and Workforce Task Group looking into the impact of COVID-19.
Under the expert leadership of the co-Chairs – Tricia Pereira and Cedi Frederick, and with a very short lead time we undertook a survey and focus groups at real pace, and many people were very generous with their time and shared their experiences which enabled us to write a report that captured their lived experiences This enabled the task force to draft a report with authenticity based on public and social care workforce experiences “who had skin in the game” , with salient recommendations and key actionable insights .
The workforce task group then developed to support the creation of the Social Care Workforce Race Equality Standards (SC-WRES), which it’s been both a privilege and humbling to be involved with.
One of my proudest moments of my career was in my first local authority role, as a care manager in the Black Care Management Team.
I felt positive about having the opportunity to drive positive change supporting people who traditionally had felt excluded and not heard. I wanted them to know that their needs were being heard and they were being seen.
I have certainly faced challenges in my career too. As a young student nurse, I was always asked where I was from.
This was in 1985-86. I would respond ‘Northampton’ and they would say ‘but where are you really from?’ These sorts of micro aggressions were commonplace.
And there were also some instances where patients would be saying things either overtly or covertly racist, and nothing was done about it, you were obviously just expected to take this sort of thing on the chin.
And from a professional perspective, there were times when certain opportunities were not always presented to me or when I applied for roles, there was no clear reason as to why I didn't get it. It didn't happen all the time, but it wasn’t infrequent either.
I also had people who were incredibly supportive and who would give opportunities to me as well, so perhaps that was balanced out.
When faced with adversity, what I always try to do is be proactive, believe in my own abilities and look for the next opportunity. I also use the experience as a spur to help improve the path for others.
If you don’t feel valued or recognised, there are always other opportunities. It may not be the route that you initially thought you would go down - hence my very varied career, because I’ve not been afraid to look at other opportunities and places to see where my skills or experience can be valued and recognised.
So, I think that is one of the important things to bear in mind; it's important to understand and know your own worth, stand by your own values and keep true to yourself.
Over my career I’ve met and worked with some great people who’ve been inspirations to me, from my nursing days - Pearl Luscombe, care management – Nitin Shukla, and more recently Skills for Care’s Tricia Pereira and Cedi Frederick, Chair of North Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust, who were both fantastic co-Chairs of the COVID-19 Black and Minority Ethnic Communities and Workforce Task Group which I was part of.
When I worked in psychiatric nursing when I first started my career in the mid-1980s, I worked with nurses from a wide range of nationalities, and it was an inspiration to see a diverse range of nurses from across the globe in senior positions. In the 1960s, 70s, and 80s working in mental health and learning disability services were not as attractive , and there were big overseas recruitment drives to the Caribbean, Ireland, Mauritius, and the Philippines, to fill the gaps in nursing posts , this provided promotion opportunities to senior roles at the time. Ironically over time there seems to be a somewhat of a reversal and only recent measures and actions are beginning to address this across the NHS and social care. We cannot have a real opportunity to positively address the critical workforce challenges we’re facing by investing in creating and sustaining a work environment where everyone can grow and thrive regardless of their background , without removing walls and ceilings to enable everyone to reach their full potential.
My mum has also been a role model for me. She was part of the Windrush generation, and she moved to the UK to work for the NHS. Occasionally she talked about her experiences. I didn’t really appreciate what she’d been through until I got slightly older, but I have enormous respect for what she and thousands of others have had to do.
Outside of my personal life, I've taken inspiration from a range of people, but if I had to name a few then the list would include Dame Doreen Lawrence, Judi Love, Muhammad Ali, Harry Belafonte, and Billy Jean-King. From a professional perspective it’s Mary Seacole and Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu who was the first specialist sickle cell nurse in the UK.
I think it’ is important that we recognise, celebrate and take inspiration from the important work they’ve done.
Visit our Black History Month webpage to find a range of resources to support you and your teams in achieving equality, diversity and inclusivity in the workplace.
Print this page