Professor Toni Schwarz

Tell us about your contribution that has been recognised through the professorship.Prof. Toni Schwarz

My personal chair of Healthcare Education is on the basis of outstanding contribution to External and Professional Engagement (E&PE) and Academic Citizenship and Leadership (AC&L) coupled with a significant contribution to Teaching and Learning (T&L) excellence. My integrated approach to these three areas provides maximum impact and influence across the Health and Life Science education sector and the Health, Care and Wellbeing professions.

Since being at Sheffield Hallam I have successfully bid for growth of our UG/PG Pre Registration courses across 14 disciplines. This has annual intakes of over 2,000 students and has contributed over £90m revenue for the University. The College of Health, Wellbeing and Life Sciences has grown by 18% since my appointment as Dean in 2019. I have also generated new business with Health Education England, being responsive to workforce need and future proofing our provision. I have taken an active role in being an innovator and collaborator to develop projects which have real community impact and am responsible for encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset among academic and clinical colleagues.

Since joining higher education in 1997 I have maintained strong networks to clinical practice and the health care arenas and am viewed as a field expert with invited membership of a number of boards and trusts. For example, joining Southeast coast ambulance service enabled the university to secure the provision for the ambulance workforce in the region. Becoming a trustee at the inception of a children’s hospice helped to influence end of life education provision. I have continued with this approach throughout my career taking up invitations where I believe I can offer value and influence. I am a Trustee to St Luke’s Hospice and recently I have been appointed as a non-executive director at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, one of the largest foundation trusts in the country with an annual budget over £1bn and 16,000 employees.

I am sought out as a health expert for opinion pieces in the media, this noticeably increased during the pandemic, and as an invited speaker for Universities with Dept of Health and Social Care and National HEE on healthcare students’ contribution during the pandemic. I continue to be sought out as an expert advisor on student matters.

My primary pedagogic practice has always been enquiry-based learning through real and simulated experiences. The role of ‘doing’ is fundamental to this. Health professions are embedded in this mode of learning and my success has been to create environments where integration and rehearsal of practices are central to learning.

I have developed a number of opportunities for practitioners to enter into academia as lecturer- practitioners or secondees; having major benefits. Firstly, in bringing to life contemporary practice, embedding our innovations for students and illustrating how research informs our practice; secondly, in succession planning in academic and research ambitions for colleagues. Currently I am supporting work which feeds into the national strategy Clinical Academic Careers Framework.

I encourage all new appointments to continue with time in practice, and currently have colleagues in community environments developing research capacity of their staff and increasing collaborative bidding. The strategic relationship and joint Professor posts are also part of a plan for enhancing our academic offer and building research opportunities.

Finally, I have held significant leadership roles in my work for the college, across the University and externally.

What does it mean personally to you to be a professor at Sheffield Hallam? What do you value about it?

I am absolutely delighted to be acknowledged for the work that I have engaged with throughout my career. Being recognised as a professor indicates a marker of esteem within your specialist area and I have throughout my whole career, both in practice and in academia, believed that development of the health and social care workforce can only be achieved by bringing research informed teaching and practice closer together. I am a massive advocate for integrated practice as the evidence clearly indicates this improves patient/ client outcomes and passionately believe that this is our ultimate shared goal. Being recognised for this work will enable me to increase my sphere of influence in this regard.

Tell us a bit about your career story so far.

My career in health and health and social care initially began as a nurse. Firstly in adult nursing and shortly after as a children’s nurse. My passion has always remained in children’s health and I have sought out opportunities to improve their overall health, which means working across complex systems. This work led me to qualify as a health visitor with a focus on public and population health, which was my first degree; before working as one of only a handful of community children’s nurses (CCN).

As a CCN, I set up a service across Surrey and Hampshire which primarily provided end of life care and care to children and families with complex care needs, enabling them to live at home rather than in a care setting. It was during this time that I was approached to take students into practice from a local university and from there I developed the first lecturer/practitioner post in the region.

Stepping into academia I realised my impact on children and families particularly could be increased and after studying anthropology of children, I decided that the way I viewed practice was so much more broad than being disease focused, I moved into academia full time. From then on my aim has been to influence health and social care education to be much more than biologically focused and to give equal importance to social, psychological and environmental aspects also. In addition, I have always encouraged students to learn through the practice of simulation and rehearsal, particularly around integrated practice and communication which I see as the most fundamental aspects of our work.

I believe it is important to focus on the life long development of colleagues and encouraging opportunities to be created throughout a whole career, this is where I am now focused to ensure that there is a strong pipeline of academic teachers, researchers and practitioners who can work truly in a transdisciplinary way to benefit the community.

If you could go back in time and give yourself some career advice, what would it be?

Plan more and to be confident in my ideas, abilities and knowledge.

The reason I say this is that I believe if I had been more structured in my career approach I may have developed skills earlier to progress more quickly. I also believe that learning and skill development enables one’s confidence to grow and to see what value one can bring to the arena. I have been very fortunate to have been allowed to work with fantastic people over my career who have allowed me to create opportunities and develop practice in the way I have, but I feel this could have been speeded up.

The value of having a trusted mentor to offer guidance and act as a sounding board to develop ideas is also something I would encourage, with the caveat that this needs to be a challenging relationship and not always comfortable if it is to be beneficial.

My final bit of advice is to be kinder to myself and see what achievements have been made rather than always believing you can do better. Being too critical can, I think, at times prevent forward movement.

What’s next? Tell us about how you want to further develop your contribution.

My plans for future development remain focused on health care practice and education. I am committed to contributing to improving societal health, be that by supporting research projects on health inequalities, innovating the workforce to adopt new ways of working as technology advances, as well as continue to work with industry partners to expand learning opportunities. I am also committed to ensuring that opportunities to learn and develop are not limited to the few and the privileged but are opened up to all. These outcomes are engrained in my values and have shaped my practice and choices. Doing this as part of my leadership role at the University is also so important.