MDX midwifery lecturer Emilie Edwards was named Educator of the Year and hailed as a "huge advocate for neurodivergent students" at the prestigious Student Nursing Times awards.
"We were blown away by her ability to engage widely across the NHS and the education sector" said the judges. "Emilie's passion was bolstered by her innovative and creative flair. She is a force to be reckoned with. The panel felt her love for her profession"
Emilie was "completely astonished " to win, she says. "I felt very privileged to be shortlisted".
She had entered partly at the encouragement of her student Nicolette Porter, who won Student Midwife of the Year at the 2021 awards. As an autistic person, Emilie admits it was a big step outside her comfort zone of running things in the background, in order to practice what she preaches about people putting themselves forward.
It was "wonderful" to see "so many student nurses and midwives dedicated to their craft" celebrated, she says. Passionate about her own students' personal journeys of exploration and development of autonomy, she hopes the prize will lead to further opportunities for her to speak about accessibility in education and healthcare.
Emilie seeks to raise awareness of three kinds of neurodiversity within maternity care - among students, NHS professionals, and women using midwifery services plus their families.
“A lot of neurodivergent people are attracted to healthcare professions, where they can lead with kindness,” she says - but challenges remain in workplaces where reasonable adjustments aren’t made. The pandemic “has stretched an already fragile system further”.
The expansion of blended learning, and need to frontload the theory side of programmes during coronavirus has allowed Emilie to combine her love of midwifery and technology to create with colleague Robin Parsons a gaming-as-education experience, enabling students to develop communication and decision-making skills.
Offering a “very safe environment” for learning, it has been produced through collaborations with MDX’s theatre and film departments. The team are now developing further scenarios, following much positive feedback from students and an appetite for more complex problems to solve. Emilie and Robin won an internal MDX enhancing education award for the game and are currently conducting research around it.
"I've always got a new idea in my head - my mind runs at 100 miles an hour" says Emilie, adding she has had to learn to slow herself down and attain a good work-life balance. She pays tribute to Head of the Midwifery department Clare Maher and Senior Lecturer Jo Killingley for their huge support, enabling her to thrive.
Emilie started teaching at MDX in September 2020, previously working as an independent midwife and lecturing part-time at the University of Greenwich, her alma mater. She is part of MDX's Disability Network and is joining MDX accessibility steering groups.
She looks forward to carrying on innovating and seeing her students grow. This year's cohort include the co-editor of a journal and entrants to scholarships and the Council of Deans of Health's programmes.
"I am delighted that Emilie’s work in the area of neurodiversity has been recognised in this way" says Claire Maher.
"Emilie is passionate about education and learning and has supported students with a diverse range of learning abilities. One of her skills is instilling in students a belief in their own ability and guiding and supporting them to recognise their own strengths and maximise their potential."
"Emilie is kind, approachable and eager to use innovative and reflective methods" says Nicolette Porter. "For example, Venepuncture e-learning package created while healthcare students where in lockdown helped me to gain confidence and maintain my understanding of this vital skill even when I couldn’t do it in person.
"She is considerate of the range of learning styles students may have, tailoring her teaching. As a result, topics that traditionally may be intimidating became much clearer and more accessible.
"She shares stories of times when she has been in challenging situations when she was a student, to help you realise that you aren’t alone and understand how to cope better.
"I genuinely feel like a different student now than when before Emilie was my tutor. She is an asset to the midwifery education team".
Nearly 500 students, mentors and education providers entered the 2022 Student Nursing Times awards.
Editor of the Nursing Times, Steve Ford, said: "Once again, I was really impressed by the strength of entries that we received this year".
"The winning higher education institutions and placement providers demonstrate the constant evolution and development in the way the next generation of nurses are educated, equipping them to deal with the challenges they will face and to provide the best care possible.”