Women in healthcare: Meet nurse specialist practitioner Mary Akangbe

Women in healthcare: Meet nurse specialist practitioner Mary Akangbe

A passion for helping people has allowed Mary Akangbe to flourish in her career as a specialist nurse.

She began her profession by training in Nigeria as a staff nurse midwife before working in various roles across general obstetrics and gynaecology specialities. 

Ms Akangbe was promoted to the role of nursing sister before leaving Nigeria in 1990 to move to the UK.

She undertook an adaptation course for nurses trained abroad in Farnham, Surrey and on completion worked as an agency nurse. She later joined King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (then known as Camberwell Healthcare Hospitals).

As a theatre nurse, Ms Akangbe acquired a range of skills and knowledge in various specialties. In 1995-96, she enrolled in King’s College London (Nightingale Institute) in the critical care pathway which focused on theatre and anaesthetic nursing incorporating research and management.

“I continued working as a surgical/anaesthetic nurse and built the laparoscopic services with other members of the multidisciplinary team,” she said.

As the speciality grew, Ms Akangbe said there was a need for a nurse specialist practitioner, so she continued training to become an advanced nurse practitioner in keyhole surgery, which incorporated roles assisting surgeons, teaching, training and mentoring. Additionally, she qualified as a robotic surgery nurse.

Throughout her career, Ms Akangbe has also gained experience working in clinical research, data transformation, strategic planning and training.

“The role has given me opportunities to train abroad in the USA and Europe,” Ms Akangbe said.

Now based in London, Ms Akangbe’s career has spanned an impressive 40 years – 26 of which she has spent in the UK.

Ms Akangbe said her international experience has allowed her to acquire new skills and advance her nursing career.

“When you work abroad, you have a sense of fulfilment which is often taken for granted at home because your services are an expectation. It makes you realise and appreciate the resources and expertise that are readily available here (in the UK),” she said.

“When I go to Africa, I not only participate in clinical work, I do a lot of teaching and training. I support them (healthcare workers) to maximise resources with care.”

Women in healthcare: Meet nurse specialist practitioner Mary Akangbe

Juggling multiple roles

While Ms Akangbe’s specialist experience and training may sound impressive, she wears many other hats.

She is CEO of Not Just a Nurse, a support network for nurses.

“It is an initiative to encourage nurses to be the best they can be, and not let societal perception or ethnicity hold them back. We encourage them to be proactive and take ownership of their personal and professional development,” Ms Akangbe said.   

She is also the founder and president of Zenith Global Health Awards which was established for healthcare professionals to train, educate and collaborate with each other.

“It also acknowledges and celebrates the commitment and dedication of healthcare professionals which often goes unnoticed,” Ms Akangbe said.

The Zenith Global Health Awards is important to Ms Akangbe because she has seen first-hand the impacts of working as a healthcare professional.

“I have seen and worked with lots of highly skilled healthcare professionals who have done, and are still doing, groundbreaking work to advance healthcare, diagnosis and cures for patients,” she said.

“They choose not to talk about it or play it down, so their achievements go unnoticed. When you look around though, you see other professions that have platforms to celebrate their achievements.”

Despite a successful career as a specialist practitioner, working with industry leaders and undertaking groundbreaking procedures, Ms Akangbe never received recognition for her work.

However, when she wrote her biography Gifts – Roses and Bruises, she received acknowledgment through radio and television interviews, being invited to red carpet events and receiving her first award.

Through her work with Zenith Global Awards she has been able to help healthcare professionals get the recognition they deserve.

Women in healthcare: Meet nurse specialist practitioner Mary Akangbe

The future of nursing

Throughout her career, Ms Akangbe has witnessed many changes in nursing, including the perception and responsibility of the profession.

“We are now recognised as an integral and vital member of the multidisciplinary team,” she said.

“We have nurses in prescribing roles, running clinics and even their own minor surgery and endoscopic lists. In the tech world, we have nurses in informatics, artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR) – areas which my role has developed into as well.”

While Ms Akangbe said the future of nursing is looking promising, she points out the need to work on sustenance and retention of the profession.

“A good way forward will be to attract and carry along our young nurses, plus expose them to the many opportunities available to them. The main problem right now is the bursary for student nurses – if we cannot get them through training, then all our hard work and dreams become difficult to actualise,” she said.

“I always say and believe that we all have the ability to be the best we can, but we have to be proactive and take control. It’s not always easy but we have to keep pressing for progress.”

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