In what other nursing job would you find yourself ushering sheep, ponies and goats down a corridor, or squeezing a bouncy castle through an internal door?
But that’s all in a day’s work for a nurse manager in St Andrew’s Adolescent Pathway, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I look after two wards caring for young people with autistic spectrum disorders. We combine a variety of therapies and classes with physical and spiritual wellbeing to give each person the skills to improve their lives… and make it as fun as possible. That’s where the farm animals and bouncy castle come in.
I got into mental health nursing pretty much as an adolescent myself, having visited an acute hospital ward with my aunt who was then a social worker. I saw the nurses spending time with young patients, playing table tennis and chatting, and thought this looked like a great way to make a living!
As part of my Duke of Edinburgh Award I volunteered in hospital and it convinced me that mental health nursing was the right career for me.
I joined St Andrew’s straight out of nursing college, and I was highly impressed with the facilities and benefits on offer. I’ve now been here for more than two decades.
People ask me what kind of qualities you need to care for young people, and the answer’s simple. You need energy and dedication.
Over the years I’ve taken young people on canal boat holidays, introduced the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme to the pathway and come up with countless new ways to engage and support our young people.
It’s not always easy – and that’s where dedication is so important. You never know what’s coming next. We have to deal with difficult, challenging behaviour on a daily and hourly basis, and moods can change at a moment’s notice.
But we do it because we care. You take the rewards where they come – it’s the little things that make a difference: when an non-verbal autistic young person gives you the thumbs up; when someone who was aggressive this morning is laughing and enjoying themselves this afternoon.
It’s also great to watch the progress that our young people make, in some cases over several years.
One of the young people in our care wouldn’t speak or eat when they arrived, and would lie unmoving in their room all day. Now, he’s spending the weekends with his family and has a season ticket to the football.
As a nurse manager, a role which I’ve now held for over 12 years, I get as much satisfaction from seeing healthcare assistants and nurses progress at work, as I do from patient care.
I’m a firm believer that people who have already worked on our wards and cared for our young people are the best placed to become nurses and senior staff. At the moment, five of the healthcare assistants in my team are studying nursing degrees, something that I’ve actively encouraged them to do.
In my experience, those that have already proved their dedication to patients go on to make brilliant members of staff, and many of my senior colleagues started out in healthcare assistant roles.
This blog was adapted by Nursing Times and published on 25 October 2016