Over the summer of 2018 we celebrated the 70th birthday of the NHS. Alongside this great achievement, the NHS launched a new campaign to celebrate its workforce. ‘We are the NHS’ is the largest recruitment drive ever undertaken by the health service, aiming to challenge misconceptions around careers in nursing and highlight the rewarding and intellectually stimulating work that NHS nurses undertake in a variety of roles and specialisms.
I started training 1991 and have always had a keen interest in cardiovascular disease and prevention. Since then I’ve worked as a nurse on cardiac intensive care for 10 years, spent time as a regional heart and lung transplant nurse, managed the Birmingham NHS Health Check programme and also completed a secondment with the Ministry of Defence implementing NHS Health Checks across the armed forces.
Many people ask me what I’ve learnt during my time as a nurse, so I’ve gathered the top 10 things that stand out for me...
1. The importance of bonding with patients
A hospital can be a very lonely place for many when they are away from home, but nurses are the ones who are there for their patients. Patients go from being complete strangers to someone nurses genuinely care about and bond with. Because of this, many nurses will stay beyond their allocated hours to be with their patients in their hour of need and will give up time with their own friends or families to help their patients. Even during holidays dedicated to family, such as Christmas or Easter, nurses will often take a shift at work to be alongside their patients.
People may see this as a loss. However, providing a service to patients at their time of absolute need is so rewarding and I rarely meet a nurse who isn’t happy to do so.
2. It’s not just the patient we care for
Nurses remember some patients for life and some patients also remember their nurses in the same way.
But I’ve learnt that nursing is not just about the individual patient. It is also about caring and supporting the patient’s family because often the situation is just as stressful, if not more so, for them.
3. You build lifelong friendships with other nurses
Nurses tend to grow close due to the emotions we share and experience on a day to day basis. The environment into which we are thrown into is something that only other nurses can truly understand. We are resilient, compassionate and strong. However, we are all human! We laugh with patients, we cry, and all have different ways of managing such varied situations. I’ve realised over the years that the support we get from colleagues really is essential.
4. We learn through training and experience
The training student nurses receive is fantastic! It’s important to know though that no amount of training or teaching can prepare a nurse for some of the situations they will encounter, both physically and emotionally. There is no book or lecture that can prepare you for some very challenging shifts and situations. But for anyone thinking of embarking on a nursing career; just know that at the end of the day, it is all worth it.
5. Nurses have a diverse career field to choose from
Nursing is a hugely varied career with many opportunities available in a range of specialties – I’ve gone from a cardiac nurse to working with the Ministry of Defence. As well as hospital roles, you have lots of additional choices such as mental health nursing or community nursing. Even within hospital nursing you can specialise in areas such as surgery, intensive care or orthopaedics. Unlike many careers, you can change direction without changing your career.
Whichever area you decide to go into, you are always learning. Advances in technology mean we are required to continue our professional development to stay up to date with modern knowledge of the field.
6. Nurses give the best advice… even off the clock
Be prepared for when you tell people that you are a nurse… it is an invitation for people to tell you all about their families and their health conditions! Nurses are expected to be generalists and specialists with an answer to every problem. In all honesty, most nurses will try to resolve most problems for people whether it is health related, social, financial or emotional because we often know how to access support and want to help.
7. Our families are incredibly proud
Despite working hours being flexible around home life, a nurse’s personal life can be hugely impacted by their professional life. However, family and friends understand the hard work we do, the sacrifices we sometimes have to make and they are incredibly proud of our work to help people every day.
8. Nursing is ever-evolving with the times
Nursing has evolved significantly over the past few decades, with nurses having far more autonomy and responsibility than ever before. This allows nurses to lead whole services within hospitals, particularly within primary care. Amongst other potential responsibilities, nurses can prescribe medications, diagnose and treat patients, manage their own clinics or caseloads and become involved in research. Nurses are also now involved in the commissioning, implementation and delivery of a wide range of services both in hospitals and primary care.
9. We are the glue of the NHS
Patients may have to see many different specialists during their treatment such as doctors, physiotherapists, pharmacists and occupational therapists. From my experience, I feel as though it is the nurse who holds all the different parts together and helps manage a patient’s journey from ill health to recovery.
10. The most rewarding career
Nursing is the most rewarding career I could ever imagine and most fellow nurses I know would say the same. They would almost certainly choose this career again, despite the highs and lows of the job. It is as constantly rewarding as it is challenging but knowing you did something that helped someone is the most gratifying aspect of the job.
Working for the NHS as a nurse is a privilege and I’m so glad I chose this career!
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