Gaining a masters qualification from the University of Cumbria has transformed Helen McGahon’s life, a move which is also driving forward improvements in healthcare across the north and west of the county.
Helen, from Ainstable near Carlisle, is celebrating her Master of Science (MSc) in Practice Development.
She was among 1,000 graduands to be congratulated on their academic achievements by the University of Cumbria’s Chancellor, the Right Honorable Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York as part of its winter celebrations recently.
Six years ago Helen was working as the team leader in physiotherapy in a part-time service across the Cumbrian district of Eden. Her career in the health sector stretches back almost 30 years in total.
Now Helen, who is 50, is the associate director of Allied Health Professionals for the emerging North Cumbria Health and Care system.
In May 2018 NHS England confirmed that North Cumbria would be part of its next wave of Integrated Care Systems, putting the area at the forefront of national policy.
It gives existing organisations the green light to work more closely together and integrate further some health and care services for the benefit of patients and local communities.
Qualified physiotherapist Helen said: “This all started a few years ago when the University of Cumbria linked with the Cumbria Partnership Foundation Trust to do a leadership programme. There was an opportunity to do a masters module.
“From there tutor Ian Corrie saw a glimmer of hope in me and encouraged me to continue studying. That critical thinking and working at masters level gives you more confidence in yourself, your abilities and leadership. For me, I started to stand out and I was able to progress onto new roles.”
Helen says she has been able to use her skills and expertise, developed through her masters programme studies, to assist local health leaders to set and support their vision for change to services.
Helen joined the University of Cumbria after being impressed by the input from tutors.
“I had done some study at another university and what I saw at the University of Cumbria was that the tutors and staff invest in every student. Just passing isn’t good enough. Every student is encouraged and supported to reach their maximum potential,” she said.
“The contact with tutors is brilliant; they get to really know you. They analyse you as you go along and find out how you learn or like to learn but meanwhile they still encourage you to do things in different ways so you’re exploring yourself.”
Helen fitted part-time study around her full-time job, taking four years to complete the MSc in Practice Development programme.
Helen, who is married to Patrick, said that her academic achievements have been inspiring her grown-up children – Connor and Beth.
“It shows you don’t stop learning,” said Helen. “My son is already thinking about opportunities to continue to develop and learn once he has graduated.”
The Allied Health Professions (AHPs) are the third largest workforce in the NHS (source: NHS England website).
In the main they are degree level professions with all 14 AHPs being regulated. They vary from therapists in drama, art or speech and language, to occupational therapists, dieticians, podiatrists, osteopaths and radiographers.
The University of Cumbria offers a range of health programmes to train future professions in many of the AHP fields as well as CPD and short courses for existing professionals who seek to deepen their knowledge, skills and expertise.
AHPs focus on prevention and improvement of health and wellbeing, helping people to live full and active lives.