We try to be kind and compassionate to our students because that's what they're supposed to be doing when they're out there in the field.
In between heading up a busy department at Middlesex University, Professor Carmel Clancy is on a mission to dispel the stigma around addiction among the nursing profession.
“My passion is addiction nursing,” says Professor Carmel Clancy, Head of Department, Mental Health, Social Work, and Integrative Medicine. “I want to spread the word and really mobilise nurses to understand that they have a vital public health role in addressing the addiction issue.”
Carmel has dedicated a great deal of her 30-year career to “facilitating a competent workforce that supports communities who are most impacted by addiction and mental health”. She qualified as a general nurse in her home city of Dublin in the early Eighties before moving to London in 1985 where she decided to specialise in mental health nursing with a view to working with young people. A stint in a drug addiction clinic at St George’s Hospital in south London, however, piqued her interest.
“I’ve subsequently always really worked in addiction and mental health,” she says. “I've always gone to the group that needs to be defended the most and addicts, of course, fit that bill.”
She has since undertaken numerous research studies on the subject and taken on many advisory and consulting roles. She was Chairperson for the Association of Nurses in Substance Abuse (ANSA) and has been appointed to the Executive Board of the International Nurses Society in Addictions (IntNSA).
Carmel first joined Middlesex University in 2001 to set up a new MSc in Mental Health and Substance Use (Dual Diagnosis). “Our course is really unique, it’s the first in this country,” she says.
She soon scaled the academic ladder becoming a Principal Lecturer, then Director of Program for Mental Health and the interim Head of Department before being appointed permanently to the role. She appreciates the opportunities Middlesex has given her and its fluidity.
“One of the good things about Middlesex is that it allows you to play to your strengths. As a head of department I can do stuff that I’m interested in as well as the day-to-day management of a busy academic department,” she says.
Carmel’s seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm doubtless helps her buoy her busy team. There are around 1,000 students in the rather “eclectic department” and 80 "bright, excited and passionate" staff.
“You don't do it on your own," Carmel says of her role. "You're only as good as your team. And I have a superb team.”
Being part of her students’ journeys towards becoming the social workers and mental health nurses of the future is a privilege and responsibility that Carmel takes very seriously.
“Engaging with people who are starting their career in that profession is really exciting. I try to live by what I preach in terms of my relationships with staff and students. That’s important as the business that we teach - mental health and social work – is all about relationships and interpersonal skills. So if we're not good at that ourselves, then we should just go home really,” she says. “We try to be kind and compassionate to our students because that's what they're supposed to be doing when they're out there in the field.”
And it seems she does practice what she preaches as Carmel was presented with an Empowering Partnership award at the Middlesex University Student Union Teaching awards, voted for by the students. She’s described as a “very approachable, knowledgeable, friendly and passionate academic” in the award entry.
For Carmel and her team, it’s important that teaching is a two-way process.
“It's not about us just being the experts here. Clearly we have experience and are practitioners so we're going to bring that to the table. But we engage in a conversation with our students. We want to co-create with our students. They're on the journey with us. We're on the journey with them,” she says.
And it’s an exciting journey. Carmel finds different challenges and fresh learnings virtually every day of her job as new research and government guidelines have a direct impact on the department and its courses.
“Even if we're teaching the same course, we have to refresh the course. We have to keep up. We have to know what's going on. It's constantly dynamic and always exciting. You can never be bored. You really can't. Day to day, year to year, I’m never bored,” she says.
Having recently been promoted to professor, Carmel’s next challenge is to become a global trainer for addiction nurses for the UN and the Colombo Plan for Cooperative Economic and Social Development in Asia and the Pacific. She’s hugely appreciative of the opportunities Middlesex has given her to further her career and pursue her own areas of interest.
“They've always given me enough space and oxygen to have a go,” she says.