Emilie Edwards - She/Her
Senior Lecturer in Midwifery
Emilie Edwards is a senior lecturer in Midwifery at Middlesex University. Emilie has worked closely with Accessibility and Neurodiversity networks in Higher Education Institutions, the NHS, and the Professional Midwifery/Nurse Advocate networks to improve support for neurodivergent healthcare colleagues and service users. This has led to a profile in teaching and learning, that has seen her recognised in achieving institutional and national awards for neurodiversity advocacy, including the Middlesex Accessible Education Award, and the Student Nursing Times Educator of the Year award 2022. She will start her healthcare and autism focused PhD in September.
Please tell us about your career
After gaining an MSc in Neuroscience in Paris, France and working as an Optometrist for several years in Geneva, Switzerland, I moved back to the UK to train as a midwife. I worked as an independent midwife in London for a couple of years and loved the close relationship I had with my clients, but the call of academia was too great, and I accepted a job as a full-time Midwifery Lecturer in Sept 2020 at Middlesex University.
Neurodivergent people are often called to healthcare, as they are attracted to person-centred and caring roles. Many neurodivergent healthcare workers are highly empathetic and have strengths such as curiosity, self-motivation, attention to detail and hyper-focus. However, healthcare can be an unforgiving place to work as a neurodivergent person. In my case, I found it difficult due to the unpredictability and sensorial overload I experienced. In my role as a lecturer and neurodiversity advocate, I am dedicated to working with students, healthcare workers and managers and NHS trusts to change the status-quo and improve working conditions for neurodivergent people working in the NHS.
As an autistic healthcare professional and lecturer, I understand some of the challenges that students can face and wish to ensure that each student’s learning needs are understood, and their strengths harnessed. Accessibility is at the forefront of my work. I have worked to develop accessible learning tools and virtual learning environments (VLE) to improve student experience. I am also dedicated to helping all students explore and develop their strengths, confidence, and autonomy, allowing them to thrive as individuals and in their midwifery careers. With this goal in mind I supported students to successfully apply for scholarships and leadership programmes and collaborated with autistic students to write a series of articles on supporting neurodivergent students at university and in practice.
My work in this area has led to a profile in teaching and learning that has been recognised in achieving institutional and national awards including the Middlesex Accessible Education Award at the Student-led Teaching Awards in 2022 and the Student Nursing Times Educator of the Year award 2022. I am proud that this role and the university I work for have given me the opportunity to use my voice and contribute to improving accessibility practice within the institution and sector. Although this is a work in progress, I hope that through sustained discussions and campaigning to see systemic change. For example, this year we are organising Middlesex’s first Neurodiversity Celebration Festival during Neurodiversity Celebration week, a project that has garnered huge interest across the institution, including our Dubai and Mauritius campus.
Every day is different in my role, and I am fortunate to work with a fabulous team and wonderful students. I am optimistic that we will slowly continue to move the dial towards better accessibility within Higher Education Institutions and the NHS. Moving forward, I am excited to be involved in numerous neurodiversity projects within my institution and various NHS trusts but also to start my PhD in September which, of course, will be healthcare and autism focused!
How has being Neurodivergent shaped the direction of your career?
When I became a full-time lecturer, I disclosed for the first time that I am Autistic. It was scary, as I feared the stigma. However, it proved to be an excellent decision, as I was finally able to gain support in the workplace I needed and was able to thrive. I was recognised for my strengths and enabled to focus on these without being constantly pushed to complete tasks which I struggle with and cause me to rapidly burnout. I have taken on leadership roles and gained the courage to speak up about being Autistic, positioning myself as a role model for neurodivergent students and staff. I grew up without representation, but I know moving forward that I will speak up and show up.
My lived experience as an Autistic healthcare professional and lecturer has driven me to use my voice to positively impact the healthcare and academic communities. I loved studying but had learned to mask and mimic my peers from a young age and struggled with social interactions and communication. I am sensitive to the challenges neurodivergent students can face and I'm keen to highlight their strengths. As an advocate for neurodivergent students and midwives, I’m dedicated to designing accessible and inclusive content for all learners and to supporting colleagues to achieve this goal.
What advice would you give to another Neurodivergent woman navigating their way through life?
Develop your support network and surround yourself with like-minded people. I have spent a long time developing my confidence and self-acceptance, but I am still on a journey of learning to be unapologetically myself! Try to do what interests you and work to your strengths - I work in a team that values the way my brain works and what I bring to the table - this has revolutionised my working life and work-life balance.