Perceptions of Nursing and Midwifery

Happy 70th Birthday NHS by Zara Head

As the NHS turns 70 and I’ve been in the NHS for 29 of those years, my challenge is to write a letter to myself, starting out as a student nurse in 1989. 

Dear Zara, 

Right now you’re standing in the beautiful wooden panelled entrance hall of Scunthorpe General Hospital, wondering what lies ahead….oooh my lovely, you have no idea!

You are feeling really nervous, although you’ve always wanted to be a nurse you don’t know if you’re capable of this, was your teacher right? Are you clever enough for this? You love nothing more than caring for people and making them smile, is this enough? 

You lack confidence and have a very low self esteem, are you strong enough for this? All these questions flying around your mind. 

You’re only 25 miles from home but it feels like a world away, you’ve lived away from home for a year already but are you independent enough to cope here? 

You know you are! You’re a Bentley girl, nothing keeps a Bentley girl down and that mentality will serve you well throughout your career, along with your eternal optimism. 

You will make friends for life, you will always look back on your years in the nurses home (student flats to you younger ones) with such fondness, you will take hundreds of photos that make you laugh and one day you will share them with the world on something called the internet! These friends will stay your friends forever, they will push you, advise you, care for you and even protect you, cherish these friendships.

Your fellow students will teach you so much, not only your amazing tutors who will go above and beyond to drag the academic side out of you, kicking and screaming! 

You will sit in lectures with a feeling of sheer panic thinking you’ll never understand, but your tutor will see the fear on your face (you will never develop a poker face, your face will always be a life force if it’s own and will get you into trouble if you’re not careful) and she will spend time afterwards drawing pictures and making sense of the lecture, you will leave that day feeling as if you can achieve anything. 

You will all run out of money by the end of the first month and be living on baked beans, but your Dad will come all the way to your flat with fish and chips for 4 on his vintage motorbike!

You will meet staff at the hospital who inspire you and teach you, you will have amazing role models. 

You will meet patients at their lowest, you will see death and you will cry, in fact you will spend much time sobbing your little heart out in the sluice before you compose yourself to carry on. 

You will hate your nurses hat with a passion almost as much as you hate your tan tights (they always seemed to develop ladders) Do not fear, within a few years the hats will be gone (you’ll never manage to put it on straight anyway) and you will be able to wear trousers, you’ll be so excited. This excitement will go when you proudly wear your Sisters dress, trousers suddenly didn’t feel the same. 

You will learn to give injections into oranges and you’ll still be nervous, you’ll hit a pip, drop your orange, and convince yourself that you’ll never be a nurse. One day students will have lifelike models to practice on, no more oranges. 

You will help the junior doctors to give the IV antibiotics, but within a few years nurses will be doing this and we will look back with surprise that they weren’t always given by nurses. One day nurses will prescribe medication just as doctors do, your profession is developing at an alarming rate but you have no idea yet. 

Nursing is gaining recognition as a profession in its own right, no longer always needing directions from a doctor, nurses are starting to become autonomous, you will grow and develop more than you can imagine. 

You will spend weeks worrying about putting up Hamilton Russell traction, you will practice at any given chance under the watchful eye of a Sister who will go on to be one of your greatest supports throughout your career, she will tell you that one day you’ll be a Sister and you’re right, when you are a Sister she is so proud of you. You will master the art of whizzing up the traction shortly before surgical developments mean that people go straight to theatre for hip fractures so traction will no longer be needed. You will talk fondly of this learning curve, ok maybe not the day you accidentally broke a window with a traction pole, burst into tears while the shocked consultant on his ward round stopped to help you to clear up the mess and dried your tears then laughed so much that tears ran down his face. You were convinced you’d be sacked! 

You will hold many hands, you will feed the frail, sooth the confused, dry tears and cause much laughter. 

You will always challenge sub standard care with a confidence you never knew you had and you will always fight for the best care for the patients. You will be told that as a student you can’t challenge, this won’t stop you.

You will see babies born (you’ll cry) you will see trauma, you will ease pain and reassure the frightened. You will make tea and comfort relatives, you will deescalate situations and bring calm where you can.

Your career will take you to many hospitals.

You will care for a patient with HIV in the last weeks of their life, this is a relatively new virus surrounded by fear of the unknown with no books in the library to learn from, so you will write and request information about HIV from the haemophilia society (because you read in a medical magazine that they had lots of information following reports of contaminated blood.  They will send you numerous papers about HIV and Hepatits C and you will learn as much as you can to make this patient’s last days as comfortable as possible. This patient will stay in your mind forever as will many others. Years later, drugs will be developed that may have given this patient a normal life expectancy. You will develop an interest in infection prevention and control that will last throughout your career. 

Your career will take you into primary care (and this will become the love of your career, you’ll stay here for many years, you will find your true confidence and change your direction) and even into roles that you’d never dream of right now. You’ll be inspecting GP surgeries for the Care Quality Commission, you will see all standards of practice from outstanding to inadequate in this time and you’ll work hard to support change and improvement. You will one day be working in an air conditioned office and supporting high quality care for the population of a town that you will always call home. You will never lose your passion for patient care and also taking care of each other. 

You will work with NICE and the Department of Health and one day you will sit in a meeting in Westminster and wonder how on Earth you got here, it’s down to hard work and the love, encouragement and support of those who believe in you.

You will make so many friends along the way, you will meet incredible people, dedicated to giving high quality care. 

You will go from being guided, supported and taught, to guiding, supporting and teaching and you’ll love it. 

If I could give you any advice right now it would be relax, enjoy and believe in yourself.

Stay strong in the tough times, they pass quickly and you will learn from these. 

Look after each other, staff morale is vital, look out for the ones who are struggling. 

When you’re spending hours in the library, be comforted with the knowledge that within a decade there’ll be the internet and you will be able to read this information from home, within another decade you’ll be able to access it from a phone that isn’t wired into the wall! 

Be careful with traction poles.

Never stop learning.

You will touch the lives of thousands and many of these will stay in your heart.

Have fun Student Nurse Read-Jackson. 

What inspired you to write this blog?

The Transforming Perceptions of Nursing and Midwifery 30 Day Challenge

What is your role?

Proud Queen's Nurse, Mum and CCG Lead Nurse for Primary Care Quality

What are your nursing and/or midwifery qualifications?

RN QN

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