First Filipino chief nurse determined he will not be the last

The first Filipino nursing director in the NHS has expressed his pride at his appointment and has pledged to leave “the door wide open” for others to follow in his footsteps.

Oliver Soriano was announced earlier this month as the new chief nurse and quality officer at Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust.

He will begin in the role in February, following a handover period with the current post holder.

The appointment means Mr Soriano becomes the first nurse from the Philippines to take on an executive nurse director position in England’s NHS.

Speaking with Nursing Times, Mr Soriano said he was proud and honoured of this achievement, and paid tribute to those who had mentored and coached him.

He said: “We’ve got 48,000 registered nurses here in the UK, from the Philippines. And yet, no one has been into that position.”

Mr Soriano added: “I was proud that all [my] hard work is paying off. I was humbled, because out of that number of Filipino nurses, out of the number of Black, Asian [and] minority ethnic nurses, I am being recognised, we are being recognised.

“And I think it’s the honour as well, that I will be with the peers who have helped and supported me and believed in me, and continue to help, support and guide me along the way.

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“I think until now, it has not sunk in.”

Arriving in the UK 25 years, Mr Soriano first joined the Nursing and Midwifery Council register as an adult nurse in 1999 before then also registering as a mental health nurse in 2002.

He embarked on what would become a 20-year career at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust – also known as SLaM – which specialises in mental health care.

“What I like about mental health nursing is, you don’t need special gadgets to support someone”

Oliver Soriano

His first roles at the trust included an A&E liaison nurse and a community nurse in the home treatment team, and his progression up the bands was fairly slow.

“At that time, we didn’t have an association that I can belong to, I didn’t see any leaders in my trust who look like me,” he noted.

His first band 7 position was as a clinical service lead and Mr Soriano said securing that role gave him more confidence and belief in his abilities.

“From that point on, I think every one-and-a-half or two years, I started looking into like the next career change,” he said.

He next became a matron, and then a general manager, head of nursing, followed by associate director of nursing, all at SLaM.

Then in 2022, Mr Soriano joined Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust as director of nursing for The Bay area of the region, before later being asked to extend his leadership to another area.

When the post of executive chief nurse became available, Mr Soriano said he was first hesitant to apply because there were other nursing directors who had been at the organisation longer and may want to job.

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However, he said it was the encouragement of his colleagues and his long-standing mentor Vanessa Smith, chief nurse at SLaM, that made him submit his application.

“I said to Vanessa, ‘what do you say?’ So, she encouraged me, she says… ‘there’s no harm in doing it’.

“Aside from being a mentor and coach for me, she’s a trusted friend. She said, ‘go for it and take that experience. If you don’t get it, at least you will now experience how to get through the CNO interview’.

“So, I applied and then got the post. I’m still overwhelmed. I’m still surprised and shocked.”

As well as mentorship of Ms Smith, Mr Soriano acknowledged the valuable support he receives from his peers in Philippine Nurses Association UK and the Jabali Network, a group for senior male nurses.

“People always say about breaking the glass ceiling. For me, it’s not about breaking anything”

Oliver Soriano

In addition, Mr Soriano paid tribute to the influence of his late grandmother – who he refers to as his ‘lola’ – Simplicia, who inspired him to become a nurse.

“She was uneducated but her heart [was] so big. What she did is, we didn’t have money, but whatever little we had, if there’s someone who needed that, she would share it,” he said.

“Or if she had the time to look after someone, she would do it.”

He added: “No one in our family background has done any nursing but I think it’s the value that my grandmother has embedded in me.

“What I like about mental health nursing is, you don’t need special gadgets to support someone.

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“Often what you need is your therapeutic self and how you communicate to the person in front of you.

“And that’s the power. There’s the power that you feel that, through communication, you’re able to actually, I will not say heal, but allow the person to heal themselves.

“And I think that’s what my grandmother [showed me].”

In terms of his priorities for his role, Mr Soriano said patient safety, and supporting and developing the workforce to achieve this, would always be first and foremost.

He also pledged to continue to mentor and coach other nurses from minority ethnic and diaspora groups.

Asked if he hoped to see more Filipino nurses step into executive roles following his appointment, he said: “Yes, that’s the quickest answer.

“People always say about breaking the glass ceiling. For me, it’s not about breaking anything. And what I said to people that I meet is, I’m just making the door wide open for people to come in.

“And I’m hoping that’s what I will be able to do in the coming years. By supporting them, I can bring them in, walk them in, in that room so that we can be part of that discussion.”

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