Ep 24: Deepa Korea on the RCN Foundation, leadership, and imposter syndrome

Posted August 22, 2023

Show Notes —

In this engaging and insightful podcast episode, we talk to Deepa Korea, the Director of the RCN Foundation, a leading UK charity for nurses and midwives. She discusses the organization’s mission to support nursing and midwifery staff through grants, research, and advocacy. 

She candidly addresses imposter syndrome and the evolution of her mindset, highlighting the significance of self-care and believing in one’s value. 

This episode showcases Deepa’s passion, leadership, and commitment to enhancing the wellbeing and impact of nursing and midwifery professionals.


Key Takeaways from this Episode

  • Deepa discusses the RCN Foundation as an independent charity supporting nursing and midwifery staff.
  • Deepa’s background in the charity sector and diverse career experiences led her journey with the RCN Foundation.
  • Deepa discusses the power of nursing staff’s care, compassion, and expertise as she shares her child’s experience with a nurse.
  • It is essential to address burnout and mental health challenges in ensuring the wellbeing of healthcare professionals.
  • Practicing self-care and valuing one’s expertise in creating a culture that values staff wellbeing is essential.
  • Deepa shares her experience with imposter syndrome and the importance of acknowledging and overcoming it.
  • She talks about her vision for the RCN Foundation’s future and role in supporting nursing and midwifery research for practice improvement.


Today’s Guest:

Deepa Korea is the director of the RCN Foundation. The RCN Foundation is a leading UK charity that supports the wellbeing and further education of nurses and midwives. She shares her journey into the charity sector and her deep respect for nursing.

Deepa envisions a future where the RCN Foundation continues to provide essential support for nurses, tackles mental health issues, and fosters a culture of nursing-led research.


Connect with Deepa Korea here:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/deepa-korea-146b97a/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/deepa_korea 


Want to know more about RCN Foundation? Go to:



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Transcript —

Nathan Illman 00:00

Welcome back to Nurse Wellbeing Mission Podcast everybody. So in today’s episode, I bring you another wonderful conversation. So I talk to Deepa Korea, who is the director of the RCN Foundation. The RCN Foundation is a leading UK charity that supports the wellbeing and further education of nurses and midwives. I was really interested to talk to Deepa. Because I want to explore all of the ins and outs and nooks and crannies of ways in which we can support the wellbeing of nurses and midwives. And of course, the charity sector is one of those. So in this conversation with Deepa, we dig into so many different things. We learn about Her background and her past and how she got into working for the RCN Foundation. Some really, really interesting reflections on her part about her own belief systems and values and how that drives the work that she does and what she thinks is important for the values and operation of a charity. Obviously, we dig into how the RCN Foundation supports the wellbeing of nurses and midwives, and I also ask her a bit more specifically about her organisation. So we talk about the way in which wellbeing is supported within the charity. Whilst this conversation was really helpful in understanding how a charity is working to support nurses and midwives, For me, it was also a great conversation that highlights some important principles about leadership. And that’s something I’m really, really interested in because developing effective, supportive, compassionate leadership is something that, in my opinion, is what is going to radically change healthcare and improve the lives of people like nurses and midwives, but also the patients that all of us in healthcare. Something I really valued and really liked about this conversation with Deepa was what seemed to be her almost non-attachment to things that she does and at the same time managing to have such a strong commitment and passion for the work. And I think that is quite a rare combination and I can imagine that is really helpful for Deepa in not getting too attached and too entrenched in everything that she’s doing and freeing herself up to be an effective leader and person within her organization. Something that people will absolutely love about this conversation I’m sure is that we talk about imposter syndrome. So Deepa alluded to this and I delved into it into more detail because it’s a topic that I care a lot about. I know that other people find it really helpful to hear that people share that imposter syndrome. And as a senior leader within the charity sector, Deepa as the director of this charity shares her experience of imposter syndrome. So listen to this conversation to hear it. in more depth, all of those things. Let’s get going. Thank you so much for joining me on Nurse Wellbeing Mission podcast. I’m really excited to talk to you today. Somewhere I would like to start then is if you could just give an overview of what the RCN Foundation is and also how you came about you know, kind of working at the RCN Foundation in your role.


Deepa Korea 03:36

Thanks, Illman. First of all, thank you so much for inviting me. It’s a real privilege to be able to do this with you and to talk to you about things that are close to my heart, I have to say. So the RCN Foundation is a charity and a grantmaker. We’re an independent charity and we support nursing and midwifery staff, including healthcare support workers and maternity support workers in a number of different ways. We make grants for, two individuals who are facing hardship and, uh, or who would like, uh, some support with education and learning and development opportunities. So we do that. We also fund Nursing and midwifery-led research on key issues and priorities for the Foundation. Big priorities for us at the moment are around learning disability, supporting the care for older people, and also children and young people’s mental health. So really exciting programme of work at the moment to be involved in. And then sort of the third area really is, partly through the projects that we, and the funding that we give, is to raise the profile of the profession and really get drive home the impact that it has on the wellbeing of the nation and support for the nation. So that’s what we do. How did I come to it? Oh, so I’ve never really known what I’ve wanted to do in my career. I don’t really have a career path. Some people map it out on the back of a napkin. That wasn’t me. And I think it’s fair to say that, I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. So that’s where I’m coming from. I’ve been, my background is that I’ve been a charity chief executive for about 15 years. Yeah. I think this is the 15th year actually. So I’ve, I started my career very early on as a speechwriter and media liaison for the leader of a political party, which was a really random thing to start your career in wasn’t planned at all. And actually, it gave me a really good grounding for the rest of my career. I then went into the public sector and then decided I’d like to try some of the other sectors. So I’ll go move to the private sector, try a bit of that, go to the charity sector. So it started with the charity sector. And just, you know, that’s my jam really. It’s my calling and I didn’t want to be anywhere else after that because it aligned with my values very much in terms of how I operate, how I think. So my background has been in the charity set for 20 plus years and I have just moved from one role to another which has felt right and has spoken to the skill set that I have so not really a career path pathway as such and I came here because I’m a huge believer in, you know, anyone who works for charity, and anybody that I recruit, I would want to make sure that they are signed up to what we do, and want to make a difference to our cause and the cause is really at the heart of why they’ve joined the charity. And so for me, this was, you know, all the personal experiences I’ve had and family experiences I’ve had, I thought, no, this is going to be a great opportunity to support nursing and midwifery. Actually. Sort of about two months in, I realized it was so much more for me and it resonated. It, I always call it, I always describe it as it took me by the scruff of my neck, really, and said, right, this is really where you, you’d want to be. This is what you want to be doing. So just that opportunity, I suppose, and privilege is a real privilege for me to be here, to do what I do for the beneficiaries that we support. So yeah, that’s, my journey here, I guess. Amazing.


Nathan Illman 07:04

You mentioned there’s some personal experiences. I wonder if you could share any personal experience that helped you perhaps empathize with the people that you’re supporting the kind of grants that you guys run.


Deepa Korea 07:17

Yeah, for sure. I think a lot of people that I come into contact with who support the charity or who work for my charity or who, who are just involved with us for them it’s about, you know, they’ve had that personal experience with a nurse or a midwife or a particular health. issue. And for me, well, there’s a, there’s a bigger bit and then there’s a specific bit. So the bigger bit for me is that you know, in my family, you know, I have had to call on the support of nursing staff for various things. So, you know, I have a child with learning disabilities and he was not a child, he’s a young man now. And actually, he’s a great motivator for me. Um, he teaches me something new every single day, I have to say, and I think the support that he’s had from health professionals and from nursing staff is really immense. And I just remember this one nurse that he saw every year, he had an annual checkup and he saw this nurse and they, you know, they just formed a relationship and a bond that was brilliant. And she did that. She was the nurse for that. clinic. And she remembered him, you know, and, as she would with all of her, the young people that she saw. And I just thought, you know what, you see hundreds of people to remember him to remember about him and things he liked, you know, that was really special. And it made him incredibly comfortable coming, to an appointment where he was going to get a bit jammed and poked to some degree, but he, she was just. Kind of with him at the beginning, talking to him, but also carrying out her clinical activities and duties, but doing it in a way that lowered his anxiety level. So I just think that you know, I’m sure that people that think about their experiences with nursing and midwifery staff have similar experiences in different ways. 


Nathan Illman 09:07

It sounds like you gained a real deep respect for that individual nurse and that’s helped you to appreciate the incredible role that nurses do in general with their patients, even when they’re under all these demands and have lots of urgency.


Deepa Korea 09:21

Yeah, respect is a great word actually. I think you’re right. I think there’s respect on two levels for me one is about the care and the compassion and the And the relationship building and all of that, you know, the human factor, but the other side of it is the immense respect for the expertise and the skills and the, you know, the clinical experience that these individuals have, which sometimes is almost not seen if you like. And that’s one of the things for me is very much about making sure that we. as a charity are raising that side of it as well with the public and helping the public to understand, yes, these are, there are issues around kindness and compassion and care, which are really important, but equally, the nurse in front of you, the midwife in front of you is treating you from, uh, and caring for you from a position of immense expertise, you know, and that’s what we have to really bring to the fore. And it’s actually awe-inspiring. I have to say it’s awe-inspiring because it’s all just there. And I’ve spoken to nurses where they’ll say, But that’s just what we do. And then I say, but, you know, it’s not, it’s so important. We’ve got to get that in front of the public. So yeah.


Nathan Illman 10:33

It’s a really interesting point that you sort of refer to around the, perhaps the value nurses place on themselves. I don’t know whether you’ve had this experience of people you’ve worked with where perhaps nurses aren’t valuing their own expertise. I wonder whether you could comment on that from personal experience.


Deepa Korea 10:53 

I think that nurses don’t value, or a lot of nurses don’t value their own expertise in quite the way that they ought to. It’s, there is this sense of, but it’s just what I do. And actually, that just what I do will find the thing that will unlock, you know, unlock what it is in that patient that is needed. I think oftentimes in a way that I think maybe some of the other professions. But within health and care wouldn’t necessarily do that. And that’s not to denigrate those other professions, really important to work in that sort of multidisciplinary context, but actually nursing staff, I think have such a powerful role to play that sometimes they don’t even realise how powerful it is, and the influence and the impact that they have. And I think one of the challenges for myself and for my charity is very much about raising that profile in a way through, not just about. Talking about what they do, but actually investing in the kinds of projects that bring to the fore that expertise. You know, it’s nursing and midwifery-led research projects that are just in incredible and add to, not just add to the body of knowledge, but actually take practice forward in really tangible ways. So, yeah. A lot to do.


Nathan Illman 12:09

So as we all know nurses and midwives under are under incredible pressure and rates of burnout and stress-related mental and physical ill health are extremely prevalent so I was just wondering whether you could talk a little bit about how the charity’s projects help to address that problem specifically.


Deepa Korea 12:29

Yeah, I think if you take the professions generally and you’re standing sort of outside there are the things that stand out, that scream out, are things around retention and staff shortages. You know, that’s the big sort of ticket news, if you like. But I think you’re absolutely right, Nathan. I think that underpinning quite a lot of the issues that exist in the professions is this challenge around burnout. This challenge around… mental health. And that is immensely important that we deal with that. It’s immensely important that actually we raise the profile of the fact that this is a big issue it needs addressing in a very specific way. So I think that’s one of the things that for me. You know, we’ve got all of these other challenges that professions face, but actually underpinning that if we start to really address some issues around wellbeing, mental health, what can be done. I think that that’s something that, you know, is really important to the future, to future of the profession, to making sure that we have enough nurses and midwives to look after us. you know, as we get older. So I think that’s definitely a brilliant synopsis that you, you know, in terms of what you’ve said, I think it is absolutely right that it is about nursing burnout and actually that sense that tickly post-COVID, you know, what I hear is, you know, we’re on our knees. We’re on our knees, we need, we need help. And even the, if you take the hardship bit of the work that my charity delivers, we talk about financial hardship, but the biggest underlying factor for many, the thing that has tipped them, if you like, into financial hardship, our mentor is mental ill health. So it’s pervasive in all sorts of ways, and it’s definitely something that we are, that we support in terms of projects that we fund. We are working, we’ve worked with the King’s Fund on a project that looks at exactly this and the impact of mental health stress. burnout will be all of that on the professions during COVID, which was, as you can imagine, exacerbated and kind of coming up with hopefully some ideas around how we take that forward, how we address that in the future, because I don’t want to be in a charity that in 10 years time conditions another report like the Kings Fund report, and we’re saying the same things.


Nathan Illman 14:53

We just have a brief little interlude here I really hope you’re enjoying this conversation with Deepa. If you haven’t heard of me before I’m Nathan I’m a clinical psychologist and I founded Nurse Wellbeing Mission. I make this podcast for fun but if you’re interested in Finding out what my services are and how I can help you and your organization head over to nursewellbeingmission.com You’ll see my coaching training and workshops that all have a focus on compassion Compassionate leadership and self-compassion. Thanks for stopping by. Let’s get back to the conversation Well, it’s amazing that you have that focus and it’s clearly very very helpful to individual nurses and midwives, but the professions in general Something that I’m curious about then actually is within your own organisation, so it’s organisations that have to set an example and often this comes from the top. So as the director of the RCN Foundation, how do you think about wellbeing and supporting staff within the RCN Foundation?


Deepa Korea 15:55

Absolutely, really important actually and I think one of the things about values. You know, is about how we live our values as a charity and how we, it’s so it’s not just about how we operate terms, our beneficiaries or our stakeholders, or our partners or our supporters, but actually our staff are really important to dealing with that, to addressing some of the challenges and, and making sure that, that our, that we live our values with our staff is really important Now, Health and wellbeing has been, it’s a hot topic, it’s a hot topic anyway, everywhere, but how you then address that is not just about kind of initiatives or, you know, it is about taking the time to say to people, even the fact that you’re, we’re saying to people, look, your health and wellbeing is important to us, which is what we do say, and actually, if you’ve got any challenges, if you’ve got any issues, these are the roots that you have.open and available to you to address that. We will support you. And I think that’s really, really important because just that one acknowledgment that we do that in itself, it’s not always enough, but actually I think it lifts people. It makes them feel actually there is somebody listening. And I think listening is really important.So we do lift those values in terms of that level of support, the support, the way that we would, uh, want our beneficiaries to have. The experiences that they have, you know, in terms of fairness and equity and, you know, having a sense that they’re being listened to, we, we need to apply that to our own staff as well. So we, we absolutely do. I think as an organization, I feel confident in saying that only because we’ve been talking about it quite a lot for the last three, four years. Actually, I think we do have a culture that values individuals, but also will support them when they need a bit of helping hand.


Nathan Illman 17:46

It’s really important, isn’t it, within an organization that the values that you have kind of posted on your website or that you’re distributing to staff, are there actual actions and behaviors that are happening that are trickling down from a leadership team that help the staff to actually believe that Those things are important and that they can contribute to those values and therefore the organization it sounds like you’ve really worked on translating the organization’s values into those day to day practices and that’s what creates culture, isn’t it? An organizational culture is based on that.


Deepa Korea 18:23 

Yeah, no, you’re absolutely right. And I think, you know, I remember years and years ago, someone saying to me, a friend of mine who was a senior leader, and now you’d never even think this. So it’s going to sound a bit archaic, what I’m going to say, but he said to me, I’ve got a fantastic member of the team.She’s been on maternity leave. She wants to come back part-time. And in those days, you know, a long time ago, or as my children would call it the black and white days, mum, it wasn’t. The culture, I think the part-time working piece was less of a, you know, all kind of coming back part-time after you’ve had children was sort of less acceptable. And I remember him saying to me, what do you think? And I said, look, I said, you be flexible. If you’re flexible with her if you provide her with the environment that she needs and to be able to work in the way she will go 110% for you, you know, she, and I think that’s what we do. I think when people do, when we do have, A culture we work in a culture where we are recognized when we are seen when our needs are taken on board and obviously within the confines of what’s right for the business, I get that, but actually, that kind of culture, I think breeds loyalty which you can’t really measure in a way, or if you can measure it, I don’t know how, um, but it does breed loyalty. It breeds commitment. It breeds, you know, a sense that somebody will go above and beyond because they know why they’re here and they know that they’re being seen. So I think your right culture is immensely important.


Nathan Illman 19:53

What would you say some of your other guiding principles that direct your work in a leadership role and within the charity because I’m getting the sense that you have some very strong values and there are some things that are kind of guiding you. Can you just talk a little bit more about that? I suppose about your mindset, how you approach things, and what’s guiding you.


Deepa Korea 20:13

So my mindset has changed quite a lot as I’ve got older and then changed again more rapidly in the last three years during post-COVID. I think, and that you won’t, you will have heard that I’m sure from lots of different people. I haven’t gone into the. You know, I want to go completely in a different direction or anything like that, or I want to resign and go live in the countryside in a hut, none of that. But definitely for me, there’s much more now focus on my self-care, because actually, if I don’t look after myself, then I can’t look after the people around me, whether it’s in a work context or in a, in a home context, you know, it’s that thing about. Uh, when the plane’s going down, you put your life jacket on first, that kind of thing, that kind of approach of that’s so important, that understanding that that self-care now, and then, and then learning how to do it. Goodness. I’m really, really not very good. Naturally. My pace, my natural pace is about a hundred miles an hour. And what I’ve had to do is learn to slow down. Now, I know, you know, it’s all about mindfulness, et cetera, but actually, for me, it literally is almost take a deep breath and say, I’m not going to respond to that immediately, or just step back. And that is a learnt behavior, which I’ve had to bring in definitely in the last three years. I remember a really key moment for me during lockdown, just, we were about six months in and we were all working online and I was part of another bigger management team, which met regularly. And we, we were meeting to talk about some guidance that had been issued about how we support our staff. So the, my then manager at the time said, right, okay, let’s talk about what we’ve all been doing to look after ourselves. And each of each, there were four of us and the three of them talked about, we did this, we went for this walk and, you know, we did, you know, and I sat there feeling more and more. upset and unhappy because what I was realizing is I wasn’t doing any of this. All I was doing was sitting down, focusing on my work and I just really, it was such a big moment for me because I just thought, no, this is not, it’s not sustainable and it isn’t, it isn’t sustainable. So I think it’s a learned behavior to that self-care is a learned behavior. And I think as a, as a mom, you know, you’re always thinking about your kids or your family, et cetera. And we’ve got generations in our family. So I’m now at that stage where I’m looking up and looking. Looking down at both ends, you know, and so the self-care is really, really important. I think the other bit for me that is important is about starting to feel comfortable in. Where I’m at in my life in terms of my own, what I bring to an organization, what I bring, the value that I bring, and starting to believe that actually there is that value. So I think two sides of it really is that self-care side and that believing in the value that I have, I think are really for me now a good place to be.


Nathan Illman 23:06

That last bit you mentioned there about believing in your own value in an organization. I have to ask a little bit more about that because it seems to me a little bit like there could be a little conversation around imposter syndrome. And I think it’s so important to highlight this because I like to be vulnerable and share my experience with this all the time with my audience and people that I connect with because I think sometimes people see someone they’re in a position of leadership. They look really confident and people assume that. To get there, you’ve never had self-doubt and you’ve never felt imposter syndrome, but actually it’s not the case at all. And I like to share that I have self-doubt every week. There’ll be some element, even before this conversation with you this morning, I had thoughts, you know, it’s like, Oh, am I going to do a good job? What’s this? How is this going to go? I’m still here talking to you and hopefully, it’s going pretty well. Yeah. Could you just talk a little bit about that? Because you’re the director of a successful charity. You’ve, you know, you’ve had a diverse and what people would see on paper is a very successful career. Talk a little bit about imposter syndrome and that topic.


Deepa Korea 24:13

Massive issue for me, massive issue right throughout my career. So, you know, as a ticklish, you become, you move into leadership roles. I think it happens all the time, but actually, for me, it’s happened more as I’ve moved into leadership roles because I’ve just thought two things. One is the sort of natural sort of inclination that I have that, you know, I’m not good enough that I’m not, that I don’t quite know what am I doing here? What am I, you know, why they’ll find out, but then alongside that, for me in particular, not seeing anyone that looks like me in these roles as well. That’s in those early days, you know, I was the director of fundraising sort of 20 years ago. And There were no minority ethnic people with, from that background within, there are now, but in those days, there weren’t. And I think that those two things combined have, you know, they have influenced being impacted on me. And I’ve had to work really hard to make sure that, that I know again, it’s about understanding my value. And I know that actually what I bring. So, you know, is the right thing. So if you take this charity, I’m not a nurse, not midlife, don’t have that background. My background is in the charity sector, as I’ve said, and I think that the board, the trustees that recruited me kind of, realize they wanted somebody with that sort of charity background and expertise and credit to them. But actually I’ve come in and I’ve had to learn a huge amount about the professions, about the cultures, about the issues, about the challenges, all of that. Now that, I love that. I love Being put in that position. But I think I’ve had to also understand, I’ve need, I’ve gotta work a bit harder at trying to kind of understand that I’ve gotta put the work in to do that. And actually that’s the thing. I think now I feel if I’ve done the work, I don’t feel like I’m an imposter. I do feel very much more comfortable in my own skin. I dunno if it’s just that, or if it’s an age thing. I dunno. Just, I do feel very different. I know that for sure. And funny ’cause I was talking about that with somebody last week, where it, there’s this sense that I. You know, I know what I know, and if I don’t know something, I’ll go and find out as simple as that, you know, and, actually also you talk about. The vulnerability, there’s no shame in saying you don’t know something. I’m not here to be an expert in all things. Gosh, I really am not. If I was, I’d be doing a bad job. I’m here to guide, to lead. And the way I see my role in this organization is, yes, it is a successful charity. It’s got a fantastic team of people, fantastic team that are delivering. But my role in a way is it’s been handed to me. I’m the guardian of it for a little while, and then I’ll hand it on to someone else. So not getting kind of territorial about it, I think it’s really important as well. And understanding really what you’re here for. You’re here for your beneficiaries. It’s that endpoint. I think that’s what guides me and keeps me motivated. And keeps me grounded in terms of what I can and can’t do. And I have to be good enough because actually if I’m not, the people that need our support aren’t going to get it.


Nathan Illman 27:17

Brilliant. I would love to know then for the future, What is your grand vision? What would you like to see happen with the RCN Foundation? Where are you, where are you taking things strategically? And I guess, you know, if there were no limits, what would you like to achieve with the charity?


Deepa Korea 27:34

I would definitely like to do a number of things. I think one of the things is around with the hardship piece. There’s always going to be hardship. And for us. It’s about making sure that, that when people need it, that safety net is there. As far as many people as, as need it. We provide that safety net. But the flip side of that coin is also something that we do, I think is so powerful, which is we sometimes, we also provide almost a root out of some of those situations for people, and that’s really important. So it’s not just about the grant. And the sum of money that they’re awarded, but it’s also about giving them the tools to move out of the situation that they’re in. And I think that’s something that I think I’d want to see continue to grow. I think some of the underlying issues around mental health and wellbeing, we need to do something about that. It’s not, it’s been there, you know, I, there are a number of reports that now have been written. We don’t need another report telling us this is an issue. It’s gotten worse since the pandemic. What we actually need to do is take some actions and, you know, some of the work that we’ve done with the King’s Fund on compassionate leadership and what that looks like, you know, these are the things that will affect, I think, mental health and wellbeing. So I think there’s something about that, that we, I want to see more happen on that. And I think you will see more from the charity on that in the coming kind of next three years, but I can’t say anymore. And then for me, there’s also something about. growing, growing the sort of almost acting as a hothouse for nursing and midwifery researchers, because if you look at the world of research, it sounds terribly dry and boring. Actually, that’s where the change happens. You know, that’s where the practice is developed and it’s improved and we create the vaccines that we’ve seen, you know, that it’s through the research. So actually, if we can create a body of nursing midwifery-led research, which improve people’s lives, which improve people’s experience, you know, experiences of care. That’s another area I think that’s where I’d see the charity going as well. So I think there’s lots to do. There’s never. You know, there was lots to do before COVID. My goodness, there’s so much more now. And, you know, we’re up for the challenge. We’re up for the challenge. And I think the key for us is to try and raise the money that we, that we, as much money as we can, so that we can deliver for, for staff, but also through them, for the patients that they care for.


Nathan Illman 29:53

Well Deepa, this has been fascinating and really inspiring and I’m not a nurse or midwife either but thank you so much for your commitment and dedication to the profession. I’m sure all nurses and midwives listening to this will be grateful and the people who have been recipients of your grants and funding, you know, the change in people’s lives that you’ve helped contribute to is truly amazing. And Yeah, just very inspiring listening to your vision there for where you’d like to take things. So thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today.


Deepa Korea 30:27

Thanks, Nathan. It’s been great to be able to speak to you and to share a little bit about what motivates me. So thank you for the opportunity.