Rhoswen McKnight
Rhoswen McKnight is a Clinical Sister at Velindre Cancer Centre and one of the 30 pioneers in the first year of our Climb Programme. Having started her leadership role at the age of 25, she is incredibly passionate about supporting the NHS's junior workforce. In this heartfelt blog, she explains why she became a nurse, why she cares so much about her peers' development, and her ambition to champion the junior workforce going forward.

From a young age, I have always known that I was destined to be a nurse. My sister, Sarah, is disabled and as a child I grew up learning how to care for people. That innate drive to care has always been a part of my identity and even though my parents have always tried really hard to allow me to forge my own path, that path has led me to being a provider of care, to being a nurse.

There is something that calls nurses to their profession. When I qualified as a nurse, I found a sense of purpose and an identity. It will form part of who I am for the rest of my working life and is one which I feel immense privilege and pride in sharing with so many colleagues in Velindre and in the health service across the whole of the UK.

However, there is no getting away from the fact that nursing, quite simply, is a hard job. If, like me, you attended university straight out of school and qualify as a nurse three years later, the level of responsibility thrust upon your shoulders takes some coming to terms with as a twenty-something year old. There are support networks in place around you, but nevertheless you become acutely aware of the real impact on your patients that your actions, and your decision-making, could have.

Last year, I was very fortunate to start as new role as a Clinical Sister and although I was grateful for the opportunity, the transition into a leadership role at the age of 25 was a difficult one. I found myself developing a harder, more serious exterior in work as I felt as though I had to behave in a certain way to earn the respect of my peers and prove that I could perform in this new position.

I’m certain that this is something other young people in my position will empathise with. There wasn’t a formal training offering on how to be a leader (rather than a manager) and I have found that it has taken me a year or so of introspection to truly find the type of leader that I want to be: one who champions kindness, compassion, the development of my staff and peers. The more I work on who I am and what I stand for, I find that being my authentic self allows me to lead with my heart and not hide my weaknesses out of fear of looking weak. I got into this business to give care, and that’s what I’m determined to do – both to my patients and my colleagues.

Unfortunately, the pressure that we experience on a day-to-day basis means that development opportunities are few and far between. Although I don’t have the answers as to how I’m going to achieve this yet, I want to ensure that our system is set up to support and grow the natural leaders in the junior workforce, helping them to find their voices, and develop their ideas into realities which will benefit those we care for. We need to champion the skills of those we work with and recognise what individuals have to offer.

I have come to realise that to do this we need to have a serious conversation about what I believe is our most precious resource: time. There’s a movement in the NHS to assert that time is an incredibly valuable resource for our patients and that we should endeavour to not waste it. It is equally valuable to us as staff. I can testify to this having recently been given the time to apply for and attend Climb Wales.

Although it can feel difficult to leave the ward and leave your colleagues knowing how busy things are, having the dedicated time to progress your knowledge and skills is priceless. It allows you to focus on your growth. I sincerely believe that using our precious time in this invaluable way will be key to both the development and the future retention of our junior workforce.

As I say, I don’t have all the answers and am only at the very beginning of my own leadership journey, discovering these things about myself and my career in real time. What I do know is there is strength in being junior, we are the hidden power of the workforce and a resource which should be invested in. I’m determined to champion developmental time for staff wherever I can.


Applications for the second cohort of Climb open on Friday 21st January 2022. Visit the Climb webpage for more information and to submit and application.