Black History Month is in full swing across the UK and this year’s theme is “Saluting our Sisters”.
To celebrate this unique month, we are sharing a spotlight on our trust’s professions lead for acute services and head of physiotherapy, Ruth Mhlanga.
Ruth, who was born in the beautiful country of Zimbabwe, was the eldest sibling of her family – laying the foundation of a caring and responsible individual who made it her mission to help enable her brothers and sisters to feel valued, heard and have a sense of belonging.
Coming from a large family, I learned to deal with the diverse needs of my siblings. Being the eldest of all, caring for everyone came naturally to me and this has shaped who I am today.”
This innate nature to care for her family encouraged Ruth to seek a profession where she could utilise this trait to look after people in need and make a positive difference in their lives.
This was fulfilled when she gained a qualification in physiotherapy in 1998.
From the landscapes of Zimbabwe to the Tees Valley
Ruth arrived in the UK in the summer of 2002 to work as a physiotherapist at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and since then she has never looked back.
Reflecting upon what touched her during her formative years at the trust, she said: “During my early days, I was fortunate to be under the guidance of a very kind manager, Gill Linton (former director of physiotherapy).
She truly cared and valued me and provided pastoral care. Coming to a different country and being exposed to everything new, Gill's mentorship was crucial for my health and wellbeing.”
Over the past 23 years, Ruth has steadily climbed the professional ladder and now works in diverse roles across the trust.
Since January 2019, she has held the post of professions lead for acute services and head of physiotherapy with an 18-month secondment into the chief AHP role between 2021 and 2022.
“My job includes providing clinical and professional governance for the physiotherapists in the trust providing strategic and operational management of services, and raising the profile of the physiotherapy and other allied health professions.
“I also chair the North East and North Cumbria Allied Health Professions Council, which is a multi-agency forum that includes local authorities and higher education institutions working very closely with the ICB (Integrated Care Board)— to ensure we support and learn from each other to meet the needs of the populations that we serve.”
Supporting our BAME colleagues
Ruth is at the forefront of supporting fellow BAME colleagues – individuals who are at the start of their careers as well as those who occupy senior posts like Ruth.
Coming from a similar background, she understands that embarking on a new professional journey in an entirely different country may be nerve-wracking and daunting for some individuals.
She values the importance of nurturing our BAME staff and is proud to guide them through any challenges they might face during their journey in the NHS.
She added: “My past experiences have influenced my present work and I am currently striving to create a more inclusive environment for all our colleagues.
“As the inaugural chair of the Chief Allied Health Professions Officer BAME Strategic Advisory Group, I was a part of the group that developed the anti-racism statement within the strategy and contributed and supported the development of the NHS EDI Improvement Plan.
“I am currently working with NHS England to review the long-term workforce plan and ensure that equality, diversity, inclusion and belonging are embedded in all AHPs programmes of work.”
More than an AHP
Besides constantly rooting for the growth of our AHPs across the trust, Ruth is also actively involved in the development of “making every contact count” or MECC group.
MECC is our trust’s action on tackling health inequalities and preventing ill health for our patients and communities.
As the chair of the group, she has an opportunity to improve the lives of those around us including herself. She believes that every positive intervention contributes to a better experience and gives hope to those striving to be heard and valued, including all the sisters and women across the world.
Moreover, Ruth lives and breathes the concept of “ubuntu”, an African term that means “humanity to others”.