Posted Monday 24 April 2023
A pioneering leader in the field of mental health nursing who spent almost 20 years of her distinguished career at Kingston University has been given a lifetime achievement award for her services to the profession.
Emerita Professor Mary Chambers, who was also director of the University's Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education Centre for Public Engagement, has been given the prestigious honour by the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing (JPMHN).
The award, which will be presented to Professor Chambers at a ceremony at Cardiff University on 15 June, recognises outstanding and sustained contributions to the field of mental health and those who have drawn on their own personal lived experiences to implement innovative practice changes and improvements. It also celebrates those who have campaigned and championed new policy and research advancements in the area.
Growing up in Northern Ireland and seeing both her mother and grandmother forge careers in teaching, Professor Chambers was determined to spend her life helping others and was inspired to follow a career in mental health nursing by her childhood neighbour, who suffered from mental ill health. "I struck up a friendship with him and that became so influential in shaping what I wanted to do," she said.
Professor Chambers completed her initial training in Belfast before moving to London in 1972 to be part of the first-ever cohort of psychiatric/mental health nurses to study a nursing course in behaviour therapy. The three-year research programme was led by Professor Isaac Marks and supported by Eileen Skellern, Chief Nurse of the Bethlem Royal and Maudsley Hospitals and affiliated to the then Institute of Psychiatry.
"There were only five of us accepted and came at a time when I wasn't quite sure whether to stay in nursing, but it was brilliant and helped shape my career. I learned about the value of data and measurement, therapeutic engagement and about myself, my confidence and ability. I realised I could think outside the box and take risks," she said.
On completion of the programme Professor Chambers worked with Professor Marks to establish the Joint Board of Clinical Nursing Studies course ENB 650 which became one of the most influential clinical courses in the history of mental health nursing. She then, following an invite from Miss Skellern, set up a course for nurses working with people who had learning disabilities before taking on the role of senior tutor for post-qualification programmes at the Maudsley School of Nursing.
In 2004, following spells at the University of Ulster and the Royal College of Nursing Research Institute, Oxford she joined Kingston University and St George's, University of London, where she would stay for the rest of her career.
Her first role at Kingston and St George's, who jointly ran the health and social care faculty until 2022, was a joint appointment as chief nurse at South West London and St. Georges Mental Health NHS Trust and Professor of Mental Health Nursing. "There were very few of those joint roles around and it gave me the opportunity to integrate research into practice and to promote mental health nursing as a research-informed profession, which was only going to benefit mental health service users," she said. "I also got to develop leadership and research roles for nurses and a tool to measure what mental health nurses do (Performance Indicator for Nursing score), which became the forerunner to the Therapeutic Engagement Questionnaire (TEQ). The TEQ, the only tool of its kind, has been implemented in NHS Trusts and internationally and translated into 5 languages, so that's one of my greatest achievements."
In 2013 she was made director of the faculty's Centre for Public Engagement, which drives best practice in patient and public engagement in health, social care and education by working with professionals, academics, service users and carers.
Professor Chambers retired in 2022, bringing to a close an illustrious full-time career within the field of nursing. Despite her numerous achievements she credited being in a position to help to develop others and striving to enhance the experience of mental health service users as being the parts of her job that gave her the greatest satisfaction. "I had the opportunity to develop nurses in a way I never could have imagined, it's incredible seeing people blossom," she said.
Upon collecting her award, Professor Chambers will become one of a select group to have been recognised with both the JPMHN Lifetime Achievement Award and the Eileen Skellen Lecture Award, which she received in 2017 for her many advances in mental health nursing. "I try to promote mental health wherever I go and keep it at the forefront of people's minds. If someone is unfortunate enough to be sat next to me on a flight, somehow or other I will bring the conversation around to mental health – I don't know how I do it, but I always do," she said.