Discussions with Professor Russell Gurbutt UoB: Online Professional Doctorate in Health and Social Care 

Professor Russell Gurbutt

Ben Diette (Academic Partnerships Manager, Health Innovation Manchester) and Dr Lloyd Gregory (Academic Partnerships Director, Health Innovation Manchester) recently spoke to Professor Russell Gurbutt (Teaching Intensive Research Informed (TIRI) Professor at the University of Bolton) in relation to the University of Bolton’s Fully online Professional Doctorate in Health and Social Care. 

Russell shared his background, including what has led him to where he is today, alongside the aims of the programme, recent successes, and its impact on the field of health and social care.

You have a really interesting professional background. Can you share a bit about your career journey to date, and how this has led you to where you are today?

I have had three career themes – military, nursing and education spanning four decades. After school, I joined the Royal Navy, first as an engineer then having gained a ‘Best all-round Apprentice’ Award was promoted to Britannia Royal Naval College  (BRNC) Dartmouth as a Royal Navy Officer where I subsequently became the Senior Sub Lieutenant (General list Executive Branch). I was awarded a ceremonial sword following graduation from BRNC Dartmouth and saw service with the Hong Kong Squadron (China Sea), the Armilla Patrol (Arabian Gulf), African and Far East deployments. 

After serving on a Frigate in the 1982 Falklands War as a seaman officer and navigator, for which I was awarded the South Atlantic Medal with rosette, I chose to leave the service to pursue vocational work that made an impact as a Christian. This included business in the USA (retail and IT sector), pastoral education (UK), subsequent entry into the NHS (mental health) and registration as a General Nurse (1988- Distinction). Following a series of staffing posts and promotion to Ward manager, I managed a series of clinical services (Acute Medicine, Stroke care, Elderly medicine, day surgery, and outpatient services) including commissioning activity in a new hospital.  

My Higher Education work since 1997 has included roles at the University of Central Lancashire (Research Assistant, Senior Lecturer, Adult Nursing Lead, Postgraduate online education), A visiting professor at Teikyo University Maastricht, the University of Leeds (Leading blended and e-learning development across Health), The Open University, and Sue Ryder charity (National quality manager, service inspector and Chair of the research governance committee). Having joined the University of Bolton as a Senior Lecturer, I became a Teaching Professor, where I continue to promote excellence in education to make a positive difference through and with the people with whom I work. This included developing and running the fully online Professional Doctorate in Health and Social Care. 

What are the aims of the University of Bolton's online Professional Doctorate in Health and Social Care?

The doctorate enables health and social care professionals to study for a practicefacing award by undertaking original research in order to make a contribution to the developing evidence base in their field of practice. This knowledge is then disseminated to inform policy, develop practice and influence the experience of patients and the public. 

What potential impact do you see this programme making in the field of health and social care?

I want to see peers directly influence contemporary debates in their fields and leverage change that benefits the public and practitioners alike. My hope for the programme is that it makes a good contribution to peoples‘ lives.  


Why have you opted to run the programme online?

The programme started life with a blended approach – some class teaching and some online learning. However, the logistics of practitioners engaged in their occupational and domestic roles and being required to attend a campus-based programme, limited both the market reach of who can benefit from this programme as well as detracted from effective use of time. The pandemic demonstrated ably that learning and engagement can and does occur in different places and times. Students can study at a time, place and pace that fits their schedule whilst benefiting from the planned live regular application of theory to their individual study. Indeed, the online programme has developed greater personalisation and supervisory relationships as well as greater student engagement.  

The programme attracts busy professionals who often work full-time, and need to use their time economically and efficiently. The structure of the programme comprises four taught modules as preparation for a supervised fieldwork module (data collection), followed by a thesis module during which the student writes their 60,000 word thesis which is submitted for examination. It is a scaffolded learning experience with ongoing assessments that contibute to draft chapters in the final thesis facilitating measurable progress at each stage of study. 

Being completely online also allows the programme to have a market beyond Greater Manchester, with current students enrolled from across England and Northern Ireland. 

The majority of students complete the programme part-time.  The contact sessions apply learning and theory to individual research projects either in individual or small-group sessions with peers. I see the supervisory relationship within the programme as a relationship, which is highly personalised, and one where we are coaching the student into success. Thus the stamp of the programme is the high level of personalisation, and whilst time can be a barrier for busy working professionals, it can be done if you really want it, and have a passion, motivation and dedication to complete it.  


You have recently celebrated viva successes of a number of students. Can you share more about their journey on the programme?

We have one full-time and one part-time student who recently passed their viva voce examination in February 2024.   

Gavin OHare Connolly, a leading nurse in Northern Ireland (formerly Nurse of the Year) and an experienced executive manager for a care home provider studied the experiences of care home managers during the pandemic and submitted his work as evidence for the UK COVID-19 Inquiry.  

Marwan Hamad developed a simulation experience for pre-registration students to develop their emotional intelligence. As a former staff member and now a front-line practitioner, he has and continues to shape practice and patients’ experiences. Marwan was educated in Jordan, trained in the UK as a nurse under a British Council scheme and has become a British Citizen. He is a great example of how capitalising on development opportunities has contributed to the intellectual and the practice facing wealth of this country.  Both students who will graduate this summer are examples of what others can follow and achieve. 

How should people interested in the programme get in touch?

Please take a look at the programme via the University of Bolton home page – search for professional doctorate in health and social care and then email me with your interest and we will develop a dialogue from there and have face-to-face online discussion.   

The University of Bolton’s online Professional Doctorate in Health and Social Care is designed to support you in producing an original independent contribution to knowledge and/or practice that has a significant impact in the field of health and social care. Find out more here.


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