Can you tell us something about yourself?
I grew up in Sheffield and was first aware of St Luke’s through my Scouts who used to help set up the Garden Party each summer. I lived in Birmingham for 15 years before moving back to Sheffield to be closer to family which is when I started this role.
Why did you choose nursing as a career?
My mum, sister and brother-in-law are all nurses so it is very much “in the blood” in our family. Hearing their stories of the people they worked with and the variety of experiences they had worked through made nursing sound really dynamic. I wanted a job where I wasn’t stuck in an office and where I could feel I was doing something useful. I was interested in biology and sport at school so that helped my understanding of looking after the body when it doesn’t work so well.
Can you tell us something about your nursing life before St Luke’s?
I studied at University of Birmingham for four years – all other courses were three years but this allowed a 'common foundation year' so I have had experience in Mental Health Nursing, Child Nursing and Learning Disabilities as well as my chosen “branch” of Adult Nursing. The course also offered an overseas placement so I visited a hospital in Corozal, Belize for six weeks before travelling in Guatemala and Mexico. Once I qualified I rotated through an Admissions Unit, a Urology Ward and finally a Haematology Ward over 12 months before joining a Critical Care Unit. My background is 10 years of Critical Care mainly on a Cardiothoracic Unit.
Why did you decide to apply for a job at St Luke’s?
During my time on Critical Care I realised that not all patients recover and that when death occurs it is often very traumatic with families not having time to prepare. Some patients had prolonged inpatient stays on the Critical Care Unit and, although they were always treated compassionately, I felt that they were not always managed in a way that cared for them as a person – I felt they were in a 'goldfish bowl' and that they missed important interventions such as talking therapies which could help them make sense of the situation they were in. They were very rarely told that they were potentially poorly enough to die and so when deterioration in their condition happened it was often quite shocking for them and their families. Palliative care nursing helps people have good quality of life even if quantity of life is limited. When the role was advertised in Sheffield I had already started looking for a new role in the city as part of a family move. The role here is very dynamic so satisfies my 'technical nursing' mind with complex symptom management as well as the softer side of looking after a patient’s head and heart.
How is being a nurse at St Luke’s different to any other nursing post?
Despite working on our own in people’s homes we don’t consider ourselves solo workers so the role is very much being part of a team. However, there is still room for individualised approaches to each patient’s care plan. Each day is different and I love the feeling of not really knowing who I will meet each day. A huge difference is knowing the organisation is funded by the donations of the people of Sheffield so everyday I am reminded about the privilege position we are in.
What is the thing you enjoy most about being part of the St Luke’s team?
The community at St Luke’s is really positive and everyone knows everyone. There is no obscure and distant hierarchy – I’m as likely to share the coffee machine with the Chief Executive as any other member of the team. People are genuinely motivated to do the best for patients who have precious time to live and will pull out all the stops to get the patient and their families what they need.
What are the specific challenges of working in palliative care?
There is still much work to be done to describe what it is that palliative care does differently to other health care environments. There is still quite a lot of fear about having St Luke’s involved even though there is evidence to show that the earlier a referral is made to palliative care services the longer a patient can live for because of better symptom control. Funding is an ongoing issue which was dramatically highlighted during the coronavirus lockdown when the St Luke's shops were closed.
Have you acquired any new skills during your time at St Luke’s?
I started here in 2015 as a new nurse with no previous community experience and have progressed to being one of the senior nurses in the team. I have enjoyed being part of recent recruitment processes and have been very satisfied to see the newer members of the team develop over the last few years. To ensure fast access to complex and specialist medications in the home I have qualified as a Non-Medical Prescriber which allows me to prescribe in the same way that a GP would. This, alongside another qualification which allows me to examine patients in a more detailed way, form part of a Masters level course which I hope to complete over the next few years. I have become a Mental Health First Aider over the last few months which helps me take care of my team in a stressful occupation. Overall my most useful new skill is gaining the confidence in communication to discuss upsetting things with patient’s and their families.
What sort of things do you do to help you relax away from the job?
Moving back to Sheffield was to get closer to family and also the open space of the Peak District. These two things are all I need to feel relaxed. I’m out on my bike once or twice a week which is the best way of clearing my head.