BEING a nurse is not for the faint-hearted. Nurses deal with life, death, and everything in between.
It’s hard graft and recent surveys have shown that one in ten are quitting the NHS in England every year.
So, what is it really like to be a nurse in 2018, as the NHS celebrates its 70th anniversary?
Having spent 10 years working as a healthcare assistant, Charlotte Hall wanted nothing more than to put on the infamous blue uniform and become one.
She went back to university, and after graduating with first degree honours, she qualified in March and is now one of the newest members of the beat on an acute medical ward at Gloucestershire NHS Foundation Trust.
She is also Chair of the Royal College of Nursing’s student council. Here, as the NHS celebrates its 70th birthday, Charlotte shares her story with Lynsey Hope…
It was my first day as a nurse. I was up at 5 am and after a quick shower and a cup of tea, I drove to work, excited for the long day ahead.
I work on an acute medical ward and one of the reasons I chose to work where I do is because every day is different.
We deal with some of the most seriously ill patients who arrive in A&E.
That might be someone who has been in a car accident or someone who has taken an overdose.
It might be a patient with mental health problems and in the next bed someone who’s had a heart attack, or battling cancer.
It’s always a matter of life or death when patients come into the acute setting.
‘I suddenly realised I AM the nurse’
There is not always time to consult a doctor immediately so I have to use my initiative and we often have to make very quick decisions about a patient’s treatment.
One of my first challenges on that first day was to look after a patient who was deteriorating rapidly.
He wasn’t taking in any oxygen and I remember thinking at the time, I will just go and ask the nurse if it’s ok to put oxygen through a non-rebreathe mask.
It is extremely hard to be a nurse, there is no denying that. It is life-altering hard. We are always striving to do things better. It’s always about giving a patient better care.
Then I realised ‘Oh wait! I AM the nurse!’ It certainly took a little while to get used to that feeling, but now I feel more confident in my abilities to recognise when something is going wrong and act quickly.
It is extremely hard to be a nurse, there is no denying that. It is life-altering hard.
The way we do things is always changing, month to month, day to day, hour by hour.
We are always striving to do things better. Nothing is ever static. It’s always about giving a patient better care.
Things can and do go wrong, but we learn and grow and know that next time it will be better.
‘It wasn’t until I became a nurse I realised how talented I am at multi-tasking’
There are daily tasks I have to perform, such as medication rounds, giving the patient’s a wash, dressing wounds, making referrals, talking to patients’ relatives.
I have to liaise with doctors, helping to make collective plans for a patient’s care and their treatment.
But we also have to be on the lookout for safeguarding patients in their, physical, social, and mental health needs.
We might need to be a shoulder to cry on, or an ear to rant at. It wasn’t until I became a nurse that I realised how talented I have become in multi-tasking.
It’s like being an octopus, but without the eight arms to get everything done.
‘The NHS can feel like a war zone’
The longest shift I do is about 14 hours and in the last 48 hours, I’ve worked 28. It is tiring.
A hospital ward within the NHS can often feel like a front-line war zone.
It can be terrifying. You want to do the best job all the time, but it’s not always possible to achieve perfection every second of every day. We are only human.
We can’t wear anything below the elbow as part of our infection control, so I wear a fitness tracker on my ankle.
Yesterday I did 32,000 steps. If I don’t do so many on my day off, I don’t mind.
‘The patients can make your day’
It is the patients that give me the energy and drive to go on. Every day they inspire me with their (usually) positive attitudes even when they have landed up in hospital.
I was working in a bay last week and we had such a good laugh with some of the patients that we nicknamed it the ‘banter bay’. It’s little things like that I love about my job.
You could have the worst shift with the biggest challenges, but it can be the smallest little thing someone will say that will remind me why I am here doing my job.
One of the patients in that bay just said to me ‘Keep smiling, it makes everybody feel better. We don’t need any medication.’ I felt so good to know I’d cheered them up.
‘I’ve seen infected scrotum piercings in 80-year-olds’
As nurses, of course, we’ve seen and heard it all. Patients come in with incredible stories.
I was working a night shift a few years ago and a patient came in as a late admission, the gentleman was in his 80s, he appeared very frail in the bed and appeared quiet and shy in his responses when I was doing his admission.
Throughout the night I could hear him making lots of uncomfortable noises, so I pulled the curtains around, popped the night light on and asked him if he was OK?
We might need to be a shoulder to cry on, or an ear to rant at. It wasn’t until I became a nurse that I realised how talented I have become in multi-tasking
He said “I’m sorry nurse, I just can’t get comfortable, and every time I move a get an intense pain in my genital area”.
I said “Ok well, would you mind if I take a quick look and we can go from there?” he consented and removed his lower clothing, I assessed the front and nothing appeared unusual, I asked him to roll on to his side so I could look underneath, and there it was. Incredibly, he had his scrotum pierced and it was very clearly infected!
I informed the patient that this was most likely the reason for him feeling poorly and that I would get him pain relief and ask the doctor to review it.
I asked him how long he had the piercing and he said he did it for a bet a few years ago! I was shocked, in a good way. It just proves you only live once, and age is not a limit to that.
‘I’ve treated celebrities’
I’ve had celebrity patients too, which was very surreal.
Of course, when it comes to it you treat all patients with the same equality, looking after them holistically and their individual needs, that’s what I love most about the NHS whether you are a 90-year-old man or a 40-year-old mum of four, a young baby or a person who is homeless, we welcome you through those doors no matter your background, age, sexuality or culture.
We accept you for you, you are all our patients, no matter your history.
‘Now nurses do things that only doctors would have 40 years ago’
Of course, I don’t know what it would have been like to have been a nurse in 1948.
A lot of what we do is the same. We are still the hands-on carers for patients. We are still the people they trust, the people they want to help them and to talk to.
But now, we are also assessing patients and doing things that even 40 years ago would have been done by doctors.
As a nurse, I can prescribe certain emergency medication and intravenous fluids if I deem it necessary for a patient treatment.
If I am worried about a patient it is up to me as the nurse to look after them.
In addition to our training, it’s often about using our gut instinct too. You just know when something just doesn’t feel right.
We form strong bonds with our patients very quickly, that is why doctors often ask nurses what we think the patient needs in terms of their treatment plan.
‘You learn every day’
You need a degree to be a nurse now, that never used to be the case even a decade ago. And it’s a hard course.
Most students will have three months off over the summer. Nurses do the whole year, for three years.
We are on placements when other students are off on holiday. There is no rest and most do it because they love it.
The training is of course important, but being a nurse is so much more than that.
There is something inside of you which makes you a good nurse. It is something you can’t buy.
SAY THANK YOU AND VOTE FOR YOUR NHS HEROES IN THE SUN’S WHO CARES WINS AWARDS
THEY save lives and they change lives every minute of every day – and now is your chance to say thanks to the dedicated NHS staff who go the extra mile to make a difference.
We’ve launched The Sun’s annual Who Cares Wins health awards to give our NHS heroes the recognition they deserve.
This year’s launch comes as the NHS celebrates it’s 70th anniversary.
We all know an NHS worker who has made a difference to our lives by showing extraordinary skill, understanding and kindness in our time of need.
It could be the ambulance worker who rushed to your aid, the surgeon who skilfully put you back together, the caring midwife who held your hand, your quick thinking GP, the selfless hospice volunteer who cheered you up on a difficult day or the scientists who come up with a life-changing discovery.
Tell us what they did and exactly why you think they would make a worthy winner.
You do learn from experience and you certainly get better at multi-tasking, I’m improving already every day since qualifying.
Being a nurse is a constant learning curve. Last week I had a patient and I was very worried about their low temperature.
I’d tried blankets and cups of tea, but we couldn’t warm them up.
I ordered a piece of equipment called a bear hugger (essentially a heated blanket) but I couldn’t get the patient to stay in bed long enough for it to work.
So I told the consultant I didn’t know what else to do. He turned to me puzzled and said, “Have we tried some hot soup?”
I thought he was joking but then he wrote ‘stat dose of Tomato soup’ on the drug chart. It was hilarious.
‘The other nurses are like family’
Nursing is like having a second family. It’s not just ‘work mates’, we rely on each other for support in both the good times and the bad.
And that extends beyond our immediate colleagues. I can go on Twitter now and tweet about some kind of nursing issue or topic and I can connect with hundreds and thousands of nurses across the world.
They understand what I’m going through, they just get it, it’s also helpful to hear and share ideas of innovation to improve your local practice.
I even use Twitter to write a blog called #DiaryofaNQN to share my journey in reflections of the roller-coaster ride of being a newly qualified nurse in the NHS today.
There is no denying that as the NHS celebrates this very important birthday, it is hard being a nurse, but it is also a gift.
To be there at the most vulnerable time in a person’s life and to have an instant trust with somebody you’ve never met before is incredible.
It’s such a privilege and to me, it’s an honour I don’t take lightly. I reckon that even at the dawn of the NHS all those years ago, my predecessors would have said the same thing.”
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