Professor Ruth Harris
Professor of Health Care
for Older Adults
Department of Adult Nursing
Date started at King’s
Challenges and achievements
When and what was responsible for you becoming interested in your academic discipline?
I had my tonsils out when I was 8 years old, a time when there were strict visiting hours even for parents. I remember one nurse. She made me feel safe and cared for. Of course, there are other reasons why I decided to become a nurse. I wanted a career, to go to university, variety in my day to day working life but most of all I wanted a job where my skills and expertise would have a positive impact on people – make them feel safe and cared for. I thought nursing would offer me all that and so I went to Chelsea College to do a nursing degree and, after the colleges merged, graduated from King’s.
What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area?
I’m particularly interested in the impact of nursing interventions and service developments on processes of care and patient outcomes, particularly for older people. Evaluation in this area is very challenging due to the enormous complexity in health services and care delivery so I’m also very interested in developments in methodological approaches to evaluate these complex interventions. I became interested in this area of research when I was working as a ward manager of a King’s Fund funded Nursing Development Unit, where we also developed a Nursing-led Inpatient Unit. Therefore, my research builds on my clinical expertise of developing and managing innovative nursing-led models of care for older people.
Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding.
Although this was a while ago, being the ward manager of a nursing-led inpatient unit and of a care of older people unit was incredibly challenging and rewarding. I still feel enormously proud of what we achieved as a team. Another very rewarding achievement is that research we completed recently demonstrated, for the first time, that ethnicity was a significant predictor of nurses getting their first job at the point of qualification. This research is contributing to the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard and its implementation.
Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?
I’ve worked with many remarkable people who have really supported me; too many to mention all of them. However, Professor Dame Jenifer Wilson-Barnett, Professor Fiona Ross CBE and Professor Sally Redfern are particularly inspiring for me and have been a great influence on my career.
What do you feel is the most enjoyable/rewarding aspect of your job at King’s?
I did my BSc, MSc and PhD at King’s so returning to King’s as a professor feels a bit like coming home! There are great opportunities to work alongside world leading nursing academics which is very inspiring. The enthusiasm of colleagues and students is very motivating and there are opportunities to work with colleagues in other faculties which is very exciting. I’m also extremely proud to be part of a university ranked 1st in the UK and 3rd in the world for Nursing.
How do you balance the various demands of a career in academia: research, teaching/learning, administration?
Balance suggests to me steady, even distribution which seems a bit of a pipe dream! I spend most of my time on research and postgraduate supervision. I try to plan my time carefully to ensure that I meet deadlines, including self-imposed ones, but there are always times when there’s a need to be flexible to respond to unexpected issues or opportunities.
How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?
Probably not as well as I should! I try not to work too much at the weekend although there are times when it can’t be avoided.
What have you learnt from your experiences that you would like to share with others?
I don’t think I’ve ever felt completely ready to take on a new responsibility or challenge in my career; I learn as much as I can, get support from people with expertise that I trust but there’s always a need to be courageous and just go for it! The few regrets I have are about missed opportunities rather than things that haven’t gone as well as I would have liked.