TThis months blog challenge for #NurseBloggers2020 is “Nursing, a career for life, past, present and future”. This months topic prompted some self-reflection on my career path as a nurse.
I have always wanted to be a nurse right from being very little. I can remember reading nurse Nancy in one of the Bunty comics and I loved those stories! I couldn’t wait for the next issue to come out and reading it was the highlight of my week. I don’t know why I was so sure that I wanted to be a nurse. My family wanted me to become a Doctor but I knew that I didn’t!
There are no nurses in my family and I am the first to train to become a nurse. My journey into nurse training did not start exactly as I had planned. I failed nearly all of my GSE’s at school and was completely devastated as I realised that I did not have the five GSE’s required to train to become a nurse. I had to resit most of them over the following year and meant that my plans to study A levels also had to be revisited.
Let the training begin!
A year later armed with the required five GCE’s I applied for nurse training at St James University Hospital in Leeds. I can still remember my first day and my small room in the nurses home. I can remember also feeling very small against the backdrop of one of the largest teaching hospitals in Europe in 1980. This was the first time that I had ever lived away from home. I was a fresh-faced eighteen year old with a passion to become a nurse. I didn’t realise back then what Nursing was really about and I think I spent the first year in shock, mostly terrified and a feeling of being thrown in at the deep end, despite this I loved being a student nurse.
What I didn’t realise until a few years later was how diverse my nurse training was compared to other nurse training schools. We did the usual medical surgical rotations, paediatrics, A&E, theatres etc, we also spent a lot of time in the community with health visitors, district nurses, school nurses, nurses that worked with the homeless, spent time in special educational needs schools and secure mental health institutions that are no longer there.
I can remember one of the senior nurse tutors telling us as students never to forget that the person in the bed who had surgery for appendicitis had a life outside of the hospital bed. That he had a job, a wife and children to support and that as students we had to remember that when we cared for patients to consider the wider context of that person’s health. That stuck with me throughout my nursing career.
Nursing roles that I have held
I have had a varied nursing career when I look back. My first post on qualifying was to work at The Christie Hospital in Manchester caring for oncology patients on night duty. I worked as a relief nurse on night duty in a busy hospital in South Manchester whilst my children were young. Then I took a position as a day surgery nurse and learnt to be a theatre, recovery and anaesthetic nurse in a waiting list initiative. I realised here that working in theatres was not for me.
As my children started school I applied for a job as a community staff nurse in south Manchester and I felt like I was totally at home from the minute that I walked through the office door. I loved being a community nurse from the moment I began working there. I loved the characters that I met every day to the autonomy and privilege of working in someone’s home. Most of my patients were older people and I loved listening to their life stories.
Whilst working here I was successful in being elected to a Professional Executive Committee nurse member position which was one of two nurse places in the new primary care trust structure that was established to deliver primary care. My colleague and I were the first two nurses to be voted in and appointed to represent community nursing at an executive level. This is where I first became aware of the value of mentorship. My mentor helped me to grow into this role and helped me to see that my clinical perspective was valuable and it didn’t matter that I had no committee experience this could be learnt. This was the start of my journey into leadership.
Champion for older people
I became the clinical lead for older people responsible for the implementation of the National Service Framework for Older people. I worked closely with Social Care and Voluntary and Not For Profit organisations. I took part in consultation events with the local community and spoke at many events, presented at executive and board meetings. This position more than anything I had done before took me right out of my comfort zone but I learnt so much that helped me to develop as a leader. I also learnt a lot of older people and particularly ageism. Working in this role led me to study a Masters in Gerontology whilst working full time.
A few years later I took a project manager position that was responsible for the commissioning and procurement of new providers to run GP led health centres. I learnt much about the procurement and tendering processes as well as building regulations for health care premises. I know that often nurses have that internal struggle about taking a management position and taking themselves further away from the bedside. I too had these struggles initially until I made peace with myself through realising that I could still use my nursing skills albeit in a different way.
When this project was completed I then moved into working as a teaching fellow at Manchester Unversity teaching pre-reg students all about long term conditions, older people and community nursing. I found this slightly amusing as when I undertook the teaching and assessing course I was terrified of standing up and having to teach a small group of colleagues. Yet a few years later I would be standing in front of 200 students in a lecture theatre teaching and loving every minute.
Up until this point, all of my nursing career had been spent in the UK in Manchester. I remarried and my husband was offered a job working in Qatar and I was accepted for a Director of Nursing position working in home health care in Doha, Qatar. I lived and worked in Doha for three years. I learnt so much about healthcare in a different cultural setting and worked in a hospital that had employees from 98 different countries in the world. I was responsible for two teams of nurses that visited patients at home often in 50+ degrees and travelling long distances to provide nursing care and advice to older patients with chronic conditions. I met some lovely people and loved the sense of humour that was very akin to the northern sense of humour that I had grown up with when living and working in Manchester.
Towards the end of my three-year contract, I applied for a once in a lifetime opportunity as a Nurse Director in a new purpose-built Statewide Rehabilitation service in Western Australia. I was responsible for the transition of 200 nursing staff from an old site to the new hospital. For me, this role gave me the opportunity to use everything that I had learnt from all my previous roles and apply to my new leadership role. I worked with a dedicated team of senior nurses who had many years of experience in Rehabilitation. My role was to help staff manage the large scale change that was required to transition the service to a new building with new systems and processes and no manual so to speak of how to do this. If you can imagine when you start a new job in a new hospital there are always people who know the systems and processes, there is always someone who has the organisational history. My team had no go-to people we all had to learn the systems and processes together almost leaning as you went.
Four years into this role and the organisation went through a financial restructure my position was abolished and I found myself at sea never having been in this position in my entire career. After much reflection, I decided to leave and complete my coaching studies and set up my own coaching business working with nurses and midwives helping them develop their personal resilience. I love coaching nurses and midwives and seeing their development as a result of being coached. It is something that I feel passionate about because it can make such a difference. I know because I have experienced that for myself.
What would I go back and say to my younger self?
Throughout my career, I have had two personal mantra’s. The first is never to go back to the same job that you left because going backwards inhibits your growth. The second is to understand that every job that I have done adds to the total of my experience and has shaped who I am today as a leader, even the jobs that I didn’t really like, there was always something to learn that could be applied to a new role.
All of the career opportunities that I have been able to experience allows me to put the knowledge and experience gained over the years to good use coaching nurses and midwives. I help nurses and midwives develop their leadership and coaching skills and also help them to create a healthy work-life balance for themselves and the teams that they lead. Working for myself gives me the freedom and the flexibility to help others, manage my work-life balance and spend time with my lovely grandchildren.
Personal Future Goals
As to my goals for the future, well I don’t intend to retire any time soon! I aim to give nurses a platform to share their stories and lessons learnt to help other nurses cope with the demands of working in modern-day health care. My podcast Real Nurse Stories is one way that I can achieve this goal.
Coaching is another way to support nursing and midwifery profession on building their personal resilience to create a healthy work-life balance and teach new nurses how to do the same. I am passionate about nurse leadership and coach nurses who are in leadership positions or aspiring to be nurse leaders. My ten-year goal is to have set up a Nurse Coaching academy teaching nurses how to use coaching skills in the workplace.
If I was, to sum up, my career in a few words they would be life long learner, advocate for patient care, growing leadership capability in teams, and fostering self-care support for nurses. We all have a responsibility to grow the nurse leaders of the future by equipping them with the skills that will help them to navigate and thrive in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) health care setting.
I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy every minute of my nursing career. Yes, there have been challenges, large scale change, low moments, moments of self-doubt, sad moments, moments when I have thought at times I can’t do this anymore. All of these moments never outweighed those moments when a patient or family member said “thank you” and you know that you and your team made a difference when it mattered most to that person at a time when they were at their most vulnerable.
After all, isn’t that what we would all want for ourselves and our loved ones?