Posted Wednesday 15 December 2021
Plaudits have been flowing for the Dean of the Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education, Professor Andy Kent, who is retiring after a 37-year career in healthcare and higher education.
Professor Kent, who has spent almost seven years leading the Faculty, run jointly by Kingston University and St George's, University of London, has overseen a suite of major developments during his tenure as Dean. They have included the addition of a suite of high quality simulation facilities to enhance students' learning and the creation of a host of award-winning degree programmes. He has also steered the Faculty through the Covid-19 pandemic, with many students and staff contributing to the national response.
Hailing from Hastings, he was inspired by his grammar school biology teacher to embark on a career in medicine. "I was good at science but was a very lazy sixth former and didn't study. One day my teacher, Mr Reeves, got angry with me and said I had great potential but wouldn't realise it unless I worked. That proved a huge turning point for me. I owe him everything and it made me very aware of how critically important teaching is as a profession," he recalled.
Professor Kent went to do a medical degree at Guy's Hospital Medical School, now part of King's College London. In doing so, he became the first in his family to go to university. "I was very lucky to have a mum and dad who wanted the best for their children. I'm the eldest of four boys and they led us to believe we could do anything, so I never started life with any reservations about what was possible. It's a tremendous gift to give to your children and something I've always been so grateful for," he said.
Formative years and journey into academia
After qualifying in medicine, Professor Kent decided to specialise in psychiatry, inspired by his lecturer, Professor Jim Watson, who gave him and other students a chance to counsel people with mental health conditions in the local community under his personal supervision. "I discovered that your relationship with a patient can be a therapeutic tool and that with further specialist training, I could have a very positive impact on people's lives," he said.
He trained psychiatry at St George's Hospital Medical School, where he went on to study for a professional doctorate (MD) focusing on eating disorders. He stayed on at the institution, embarking on his professional career as a research fellow in 1991, before working his way from senior lecturer to professor. In time he moved from research to education, working as a module leader, then as course director for medicine, and then Dean of Education at St George's. In this role, he was responsible for education strategy and the quality, student experience and graduate outcomes of all St George's, University of London programmes.
Becoming Faculty Dean
Taking up the post of Dean of the Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education, with accountabilities to two institutions, offered new challenges. "One of things that really interested me about the role was the chance to work outside my comfort zone with colleagues from different specialisms and disciplines," Professor Kent said. "I was particularly interested in working with educators and researchers in the specialisms I was working alongside in my NHS consultant role – nursing, midwifery and social work. The opportunity to work in initial teacher education and the allied health professions was an exciting added bonus."
He soon discovered the complementary benefits the joint partnership between Kingston and St George's brought for research and learning. "The Faculty has a very proud and prolific research record, with some significant expertise in its midst," he said. "Its approach to simulated teaching in nursing, midwifery, paramedic science and radiography has also really seen it blaze a trail. This type of learning is so important when our students spend half their studies in practice."
Navigating the pandemic
Leading the Faculty through the Covid-19 pandemic ranks as one of Professor Kent's biggest and most challenging highlights. "We found ourselves very much on the frontline because we were responsible for teacher, social work, nursing, midwifery and allied health education. I'm enormously proud of the colleagues who worked extremely hard to deliver this education in a safe environment and for helping to get our incredible students out into practice to support the workforce on the frontline in schools, social care settings, hospitals and across the wider community," he said.
In addition, he has overseen the development of new educational programmes in occupational therapy, the largest social work educational partnership with local authorities in the country, and Kingston's award-winning nursing associate degree programme, which he describes as the best in the country.
Professor Kent is quick to stress this has all been the result of team efforts, exemplified by a swathe of awards won by staff and students over the years. For much of his career, he has also worked half-time as an NHS consultant, including leading the South West London perinatal mental health services and acting as a non-executive director on the local mental health trust board with special responsibility for clinical safety, effectiveness and service user experience. He stepped down from clinical practice in 2016 to focus exclusively on his university role.
His abiding memory though will be the celebrations of students' achievements at graduation. "It's a time for all of us to come together and applaud the success of our students, knowing we have done something incredibly worthwhile to deliver opportunity and bright futures for them. One of the great privileges of being a Dean is that you lead professional staff as well as academic staff. None of the research and teaching we deliver would be possible without the extraordinary talent we have across our professional and technical services."
Kingston University Vice-Chancellor Professor Steven Spier paid tribute to Professor Kent for the many milestones he had overseen during his tenure as Dean. "Under his leadership, the Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education has made a considerable contribution to both teaching and research developments across healthcare and related professions. Andy's expertise and sage leadership have also played a significant role in guiding staff and students through the pandemic, while ensuring they have been able to make vital and valuable contributions putting their skills and knowledge into practice on the frontline to support the nation's recovery."