As part of our series aimed at helping registrants better understand the work of NMBI, we speak with Board member Catherine Cocoman who also sits on two NMBI Committees.
Could you tell our readers a bit about your background?
I always knew I wanted to be a nurse. My mother worked as a psychiatric nurse, and she spread her passion and love of her profession to me and many others. My desire to interact with people and understand their experiences as well as wanting to care for people brought me to work as a Healthcare Assistant in a nursing home at 16 years old. I loved it.
I have had a varied and interesting nursing career thus far. I studied general nursing at Trinity College Dublin and a couple of years later completed a post-graduate in mental health nursing in DCU. I have worked in an acute hospital as a general nurse and across the acute and community mental health sectors as a psychiatric nurse.
When did you join the Board of NMBI and why did you choose to run for election?
I joined the Board in December 2017 in the registered psychiatric nurses’ position. I was very fortunate to work alongside an inspirational nurse some years ago who sat on the Fitness to Practise Committee of NMBI. She would always speak so highly of its purpose, function and processes. She ensured all the junior nurses like me understood the role of our regulator and the importance of the FTP processes in safeguarding the patients and upholding the integrity of the profession.
I have in the past served as secretary for the local branch of the Psychiatric Nurses Association, lobbying and negotiating for good working conditions and pay for my fellow nursing colleagues and improved services for patients. I also sat on the social and benefit committee of our service and was actively involved with the local Mental Health Association. I was always keen to be involved in anything that served my peers and patients and where I could positively influence or affect change for the good of the nurse or patient.
I was curious to know more about NMBI and its work, so I took a chance on putting myself forward. My positive attitude and passion for nursing, as well as my passion for improving the experiences of patients drove my interest. I also thought I could adequately represent nurses and in particular the psychiatric nurses’ voice. In reality, why I chose to do it and what I contribute now is probably very different.
As a nursing member of the Board, how important is it to have diversity in representation and what value do non-nurses/midwives add to the decision-making process?
The Board comprises 23 members with a lay majority of 12. Of the remaining 11 members, eight are registered nurses and midwives elected by the professions. The elected members represent the general, children's, psychiatric, intellectual disability, public health and midwifery disciplines.
Diversity on the Board is vital. It adds another dimension to discussions. Everyone has a different perspective on things whether they are a lay or registrant Board member. In the past I would have wondered why non nurses or non-registrants were on the Board at all. Now I can see the value of the skills and experience all people bring to the Board. A lot of a Board’s work is associated with the workings of the organisation and the business and operational side of things not just Fitness to Practise matters. Diversity avoids ‘group think’ and allows for a balance of views and good debate and some challenging comments which makes for better decision making and I have seen this first-hand at work. Good governance standards have also outlined the need for boards such as NMBI to address and ensure diversity.
What have been your biggest achievements as a Board member?
I get satisfaction and a sense of achievement when I contribute my thoughts on matters that arise whether at committee meetings or Board meetings. I like to pride myself on representing my psychiatric nursing colleagues whilst also being cognisant that my main role as a Board member is to act in the public’s interest and protecting the public whilst upholding the integrity of the professions.
I am currently completing a professional certificate in governance. As part of that I have surveyed my Board member colleagues on their experiences of being involved with strategy development and implementation within NMBI. The results may influence or affect change for Board members and their experience.
What challenges have you faced during your time on the Board?
The first year was a huge learning curve. I was very unprepared for the demands of sitting on a State body. I had very little experience or exposure to board-style meetings and what they would entail. I also had the mix of a maternity leave and job promotion to add to the demands. Then Covid-19 happened. At this stage, coming near the end of my term, I feel that all the challenges have been overcome and that I have gained huge skills and experience. I have fully contributed as a Board member on all aspects of the Board’s work whether it is the decision-making on sanctions following a FTP inquiry or when the NMBI senior management team bring a new project for approval to the Board. NMBI as an organisation has been very supportive of my needs and provided training and answered any of my queries.
You are also part of the Fitness to Practise Committee and the Education, Training and Standards committees. Could you tell our readers what role these Committees play and how it affects them?
NMBI has three statutory committees, in addition to a number of other committees and sub-committees. The statutory committees are: Fitness to Practise Committee (2011), Midwives Committee and Preliminary Proceedings Committee. There are a number of other committees such as the Audit & Risk Committee, the Business, Strategy & Finance Committee and the Registration Committee that assist the Board in the performance of its functions.
I sit on two committees; the Education, Training and Standards Committee and the Fitness to Practise Committee. I put myself forward for both these committees given my skills and knowledge. The role of the Education, Training and Standards Committee is to perform certain aspects of the Board’s delegated functions regarding education, training, standards and ethics. They approve and review all the documents that are developed or updated that guide students, nurses and midwives on their day-to-day practice. The committee oversees all undergraduate and post graduate courses and we examine site inspections reports from the NMBI. As a nurse in a clinical learning environment myself, I can now see where the work that goes in at the NMBI level cascades out and influences the day-to-day workings of nursing practice.
In previous interviews with Board members, we spoke about how they find a balance between their work on the Board and Committees, their career and their home life? How do you find a balance?
I work full-time in an acute mental health unit, while balancing a family life with two young children, a husband and a big hairy dog, and its demands. I enjoy being busy and the ‘buzz’ I get from being involved on the Board, being a part of a team and part of something that could positively effect and influence the future of nursing.
I am fortunate to have a supportive husband and family. I also have the support of the Kildare/West Wicklow mental health services staff where I work. I believe that keeping a very tight diary is pivotal. This has not always been my forte, to my own detriment. This year I have my annual leave booked in for the year to allow for the many hours of commitment to NMBI per month and to fit in the day job.
Instead of reading fiction or watching Netflix some nights I read the briefs provided in preparation for NMBI meetings. In my view it is not a hassle or problem to spend so much personal time on something that is so important to the lives of nurses/midwives and patients.
Finally, what advice would you give a work colleague who is interested in joining the NMBI Board or one of the NMBI Committees?
Go for it! Honestly, the opportunities are great. It has highs and lows and it is challenging at times but you will be involved in the discussion and decision-making on issues and projects which will positively benefit patients and nurses in the years ahead.