Interview: Joseph Odior on his experience of working in the NHS

Joseph OdiorJoseph Odior is a qualified nurse and Senior Clinical Manager for NHS England and NHS Improvement, working in the nursing directorate within Cheshire and Merseyside. His portfolios of work include continuing healthcare, bloodstream infection, primary care safety and transforming care. He also holds a number of degrees, including a Master’s degree in Public Health.

How did you get into your current role?

After working in London for most of my career, I was interested in the idea of working in the North West region, as I felt I had a lot of offer and I would also learn a lot about the area. I also felt it was beneficial in terms of representation, as I knew that there are not many people like me in leadership positions in the North West.

What has your experience of working in the health and care system been like?

My experience has definitely been varied. For example, I’ve had times as a trainee where I’ve felt under pressure to know more than my white colleagues because I am under more scrutiny, which is quite subtle. I’ve also had experiences of overt racism where a colleague has said things to me like: “I’ve got a banana for you, don’t people like you like bananas?”, which really affected me and created a negative impact. But I’ve also had good experiences, where managers have believed in me and invested in me, which has been great and has really helped me get to where I am today.

Have you noticed a difference in what it was like working in London compared to the North West?

I definitely don’t see as many people like me working in the North West, which means that I’ve had to develop the emotional intelligence and self-awareness to know that sometimes my passion in what I’m trying to convey can come across as aggressive, due to how other people perceive what I’m saying. However, since I’ve started working in the North West, I’ve had a great reception and I’ve had so much support, which is amazing. I am very thankful in particular to Cheshire and Merseyside’s Director of Nursing, Marie Boles, who has been very supportive since I started.

I’ve also taken the fact that there aren’t as many BAME people in the population or the workforce as an opportunity for me to stand up for these people and be their voice, so that services can be improved for them. I’m always focused on improving outcomes for members of marginalised communities, which doesn’t just mean BAME people, it’s something I’m very passionate about.

What do you think needs to change to ensure that health and care workplaces are more accessible for BAME people?

Equality, diversity and inclusion should be more than a tick-box exercise. I’m very aware that the percentage of the population who are BAME is much lower in the North West, but I still think I would like to see more people from those communities in more senior and leadership positions. If we are saying that we are all for diversity and equality, how can we have people at the top of our organisations who don’t surround themselves with diverse teams? Having that diversity means you have people in charge who understand that not everyone is like them and peoples’ cultural background can affect how they access health and care services. I am seeing this change however, and I’m seeing systems and processes be put in place to encourage some of this diversity, which is great.

I think BAME people also need to be given access to a level playing field and an equal chance to work their way up and develop. I’ve had interviews and heard about interviews where the applicant not been successful, but the feedback is quite clumsy and doesn’t really explain why they didn’t get the job. But if there was a more transparency and commitment to fair recruitment and supporting BAME people, there could be more of an enabling environment created where people are offered development opportunities or advice on secondments or new skills that could allow the person to eventually be in that role. At the moment, this doesn’t really happen and people aren’t given the chance.

We also know that, due to NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard data, that people from BAME backgrounds are more likely to be in disciplinaries. This isn’t good and is actually preventing more people from that background from working in the NHS, because a perception is created that it is an unwelcoming environment, which couldn’t be further from the truth of my experience of working in the North West. If we start to change this perception, I think we’ll be able to attract more people into a career in the NHS.

What are some cultural resources that you’d recommend people take a look at during Black History Month?

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou is very good and sheds light on the struggle around racism and identity that many black people face. The BBC Two documentary, Enslaved with Samuel L Jackson, is also great and is a real eye-opener.

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