A day in the life: pro-vice-chancellor

From nursing and the army to university pro-vice chancellor – Paula Holt knows a thing or two about public service

How long have you been in your job?

I’ve been a nurse since 1984 and worked in higher education since 2002.

What is it about your job that gets you out of bed in the morning?

Making a difference. I am incredibly proud that we have wide participation in our health and social care provision that facilitates real social mobility into vital professions. I am even more proud that those we educate and train go on to have meaningful, impactful careers where they make a positive and tangible difference to the lives of others. It’s win-win.

Another great motivator is being able to pursue my passion for equity, diversity, inclusivity and fairness. I am pleased to work within an organisation that is committed to enhancing our culture.

What’s the first thing you do when you get into work?

I walk the dog before I do anything else in the morning. At the moment, working from home, I start up the laptop, grab a cup of tea and usually start the day catching up with my deputy dean and heads of school. Supporting the current public health emergency means that in health we have been incredibly busy, and every day is different. We have moved teaching online; are making changes to curricula to adapt programmes for students who are spending longer in clinical practice or focusing on theory; identifying and delivering all the supplies we can to support the NHS (from PPE to mobile X-ray equipment) and supporting our local Trusts and Clinical Commissioning Group with workforce and facilities.

What’s the best thing about your job?

The best thing about my job is the wide variety of students, staff, clinicians, researchers and managers of health and care providers I work with, all of whom have the same goal in mind – the best possible care for patients, families and our communities.

I also enjoy being regulatory lead for the Council of Deans of Health. The Council brings together 85 universities whose collective engagement and intelligence serve to influence UK-wide policy and practice to support quality education and research; a great example of collaboration.

And the worst? The constant demand of email.

What is it about your personality that makes you suitable for the role?

My sociability and collaborative nature – which is why I am not enjoying working from home very much! My background in the NHS and as an army officer leads me to enjoy strategy and teamwork, and has taught me to be decisive.

Which five words sum up your typical day?

People, strategy, creativity, opportunity, compassion.

If you weren’t in this role, what would you be?

A geneticist. I was passionate about this subject at school.


Dr Paula Holt is pro-vice-chancellor and dean of College of Health and Social Care at the University of Derby

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