International Nurses’ Day: what’s it like working at the coalface of healthcare?

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By Hannah Friend

Nursing is a crucial part of the medical profession. We hear from workers on the ground about what their day job is really like

Nursing is certainly not for the feint-hearted, but it does have its rewards, including a sense of satisfaction and pride not found in many other areas of work.

Each year the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) organises UK-wide activities in celebration of International Nurses’ Day, held annually on 12 May, Florence Nightingale’s birthday. It is a chance to recognise the efforts of those working in the profession. To find out what working life is really like, we speak to four nurses about how and why they got into the profession.

Katharine Wells, community mental health nurse, East Glade, Sheffield Health and Social Care (SHSC)

I worked as a care assistance on and off for a number of years prior to going for my nurse training. I never thought I would be a nurse, but after finishing university I was at a loss career-wise. My mum, who is also a nurse, suggested I look into nursing, as I loved working as a support worker. I had never thought about it until then but it was a perfect role for me.

I work for the access and assessment team. We receive referrals from primary care (GPs) and various other sources, including housing officers and police, as well as self-referrals, and offer in-depth reviews of the person’s mental health. The best part is definitely seeing people’s mental health improve – it is amazing how quickly some people can turn things around. You often find that once a few other social issues, such as finances or housing, have been improved, their mental health will also get better. The worst part is the limitations of the service and what we can provide. Many people who need help fall through the gaps – this is not just the case for SHSC, but nationwide. It can feel like your hands are tied sometimes.

Katy Elliott, third year adult nursing student, University of Southampton

After school I got a full-time job, but I always wanted to do nursing. It wasn’t until after my granddad died and my nephew was born prematurely that I thought about nursing. I witnessed all the amazing care given and wanted to get involved, to be the person people felt safe with and cared for them, like my family had been cared for.

The most enjoyable part of my course is the placements. It’s great to be out there helping people, as well as gaining real-world experience. I also organised a practice development experience in my second year, where I went to Malawi, in Africa, to use the knowledge and skills I had gained so far as a student nurse to benefit the people living there.

Owen Nolan, acting manager of the child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), The Priory Hospital Ticehurst, Sussex

I decided I wanted to go in to the profession when I was at school. I saw nursing as a job with a lot of passion behind it and that it was a career for people who care about others and the society we live in. I oversee the child and adolescent mental health services, which involves 40 staff who support and care for young people aged 12 to 18 through difficult times in their lives.

It’s great because you know you are doing something worthwhile and it is very rewarding to see that what you are doing is having a positive effect on the young people in your care. It can be an intense place to work, but there is a lot of support from managers and other staff. We all work as a team to provide the best care. It is a rewarding and worthwhile career. It is a modern job underpinned by traditional values, but if you work for a company, such as the Priory Group, you are also at the forefront of change and innovation and the provision of quality care.

Jodi Betts, paediatric haematology clinical nurse specialist, children’s services, Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge

My advice to anyone wanting to get into the profession is get some work experience where you can, to see what it is like to work within a healthcare setting – some people love it and some people don’t. I always knew I wanted to work within the medical profession, my dad was a GP and my mum was a radiographer. I chose children’s nursing as I wanted to make a difference to young people and their families who had to spend time in hospital and deal with the challenges that that brings.

I gained my nursing qualification by doing a bachelors degree in nursing, and qualified in 1997 as a paediatric nurse and started working in paediatric haematology and oncology. I currently work with paediatric (0-16 years) haematology patients. This includes children with short-term acute problems with their blood, who are referred for advice, children with longer-term conditions that may require intensive treatment or who have lifelong conditions, such as sickle cell disease and thalassaemia. The best parts of my role are working with families and seeing how amazingly they can cope with the problems caused by having a sick child. Being able to help make those families’ lives a little bit easier by support and communication is also very rewarding.

This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional

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