Nursing became a registered profession 100 years ago this month. To celebrate this centenary, Wendy Shanahan, one of our longest serving nurses, shared her thoughts about the profession and what being a nurse means to her.
“I have wanted to be a nurse for as long as I can remember.
I completed a health and social course at college in 1982 and one of my placements was here at St Andrew’s on Daniel Rambaut ward. I applied for my nurse training after finishing the course and started my 2 year SEN (State Enrolled Nurse) training at St Crispin’s Hospital in Northampton in 1983.
My first placement was in ‘psychogeriatric‘ and we were told that if you survived your 12 weeks on the ward, then the rest of the course was easy. It was a 23-bedded mixed gender ward and 12 of the patients had Iodine baths every day. I can remember the tipped back chairs with the tables across them to stop patients from falling, all lined up in the corridor. We would wheel the patients in and bathe them, then leave them outside the clinic for the Ward Sister to do their dressings. The other patients would be showered and dressed.
Then started the daily routine of making beds, mealtimes and toileting. We had very little time to spend with patients engaging with them or doing activities. It was the hardest work I have ever done in my life. After each shift, you were literally exhausted both mentally and physically. However, I found it so rewarding and got immense job satisfaction caring for that patient group and despite having several more placements in acute, community, long stay and rehabilitation wards I knew my passion would be working with older people.
During my training, I was able to be left in charge of a ward and hold the medicine keys as soon as I passed my drug assessment. There wasn’t any preceptorship then. I can remember completing my drug assessment in the morning and being given the keys at lunchtime to take charge. I was still in my 2nd year of training. However, it was so different then. I worked shifts and I was paid a monthly salary and I can remember one Manager telling me that along with that came ‘responsibility‘.
When I qualified in 1985 I was so happy to receive my St Crispin’s Hospital badge. I wore a blue checked uniform but as soon as I qualified, I added my green belt with my bronze buckle.
My parents were so proud of me, especially my mum. She had aspirations of becoming a nurse in London but my Nan brought her a bike so she would stay in Ireland with her. My parents brought me my bronze buckle and my grandparents brought me my shoes – which were shaped like pork pies at the front.
Unfortunately, there were very few jobs at St Crispin’s so I got a post in a nursing home, until I decided to apply for a job at St Andrew’s.
My first post at St Andrew’s was as an Enrolled Nurse on Compton Ward in 1993. We had 12 patients and two staff. Throughout my time here I have worked as a qualified nurse on four different wards. In 1999 whilst working on Daniel Rambaut, St Andrew’s funded me to do my conversion course and in 2000 I became a staff nurse – that is when my belt changed from green to blue. Following on from that I had a post as Deputy Ward Manager and then as Acting Ward Sister.
In 2000 we set up a new service for older men, called Foster Ward and I was the Ward Sister there for many years. I also had a few secondment roles as Ward Sister, and also on Sherwood the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) for eight months, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I learnt so much and gained insight into acute mental health problems, however there was something missing… I did not get the same sense of job satisfaction.
My passion was still in working with older people and when a Nurse Manager position came up on Daniel Rambaut ward, I jumped at the chance and moved over to Neuropsychiatry. Over time, I became the manager for two additional wards. At one point, I think I might have had as many as 100+ staff.
More recently, I held the post of Interim Operational Lead and spent eight months setting up a new Dementia and HD unit with our Clinical Lead. That was an exciting time and I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to be involved in a new transition. Once again, I longed to be back on the wards, working alongside staff and caring for people with dementia so I went back to my Nurse Manager role on Daniel Rambaut ward, where I am still there today.
I have worked with so many amazing people over the years at St Andrew’s and have learnt so much. I have memories of patients which will stay with me always.
As I qualified as nurse in 1985, so much has changed in terms of processes. However as a nurse our NMC registration underpins everything we do. What registration forces you to do is always think about your actions when you practice. Are my actions justified? Is it safe? Is it in the best interests of the patient? Is it the less restrictive practice? The list is endless and that should never change.”
Pictured left to right: Wendy's selection of St Andrew's badges / Noreen McLoughlin, Wendy Shanahan and Lisa Cairns - three of our longest serving nursing staff / Wendy outside Harper ward in 1994.