20 / 1 / 2016 8am
Jane Cummings, chief nursing officer for England shares the moments that shaped her career in this blog for the #NHSwhereIstarted campaign.
This year will mark 34 years since I qualified as a nurse, after training at Southmead Hospital in my native Bristol.
I had always wanted to be a nurse and, as a child, often practiced tying bandages on my teddy bear, various pets and my brother, which met with varying degrees of co-operation. There was no medical or nursing background in my family except for a great aunt who was a nurse in the war. She used to talk movingly about her experiences and this inspired me. When I was a teenager, my mum was in hospital several times and, when visiting her, I was struck by the impact of the nursing staff who cared for her and other patients. I subsequently volunteered on one of the wards and there was something very powerful about having the knowledge, skills and compassion to make a difference. That was why I became a nurse.
I began my nursing career working in accident and emergency. There were butterflies in my stomach on my first day, and I sometimes found myself doing a double-take when people called out “nurse” and I realised they were looking at me. As a newly qualified nurse or midwife, you are making decisions about your patients, assessing them, planning care and communicating with them. You quickly start to work alongside staff in other clinical fields, with students and healthcare assistants and I have often said that when qualifying, you are at the start, not the end of your education and development.
Over the years I tried and tested a variety of roles. Initially my ambition was to be a sister, which I did, and then a clinical nurse specialist at the age of 27. If the consultant nurse role had been in place then, I am sure that is what I would have done. However, I took opportunities as they came along, including secondments, and tried to make a difference whatever I was doing. I remember introducing patient centred handover with patients when I was a staff nurse. That was unheard of in those days! What I have also learned is that you should always be true to your values, have integrity and build resilience. Be honest if you make mistakes, but the key thing is being open to learning, to reflect, change and move on.
One of the most pivotal moments in my career was also one of the most pivotal moments in my life. Ten years ago this year Chris, my husband of over 20 years, died from acute leukaemia. In a sense this experience put me on the other side of the fence, and I will always be deeply grateful to the staff who cared for him in hospital, especially the specialist nurse who gave us help, advice and guidance about what to expect and provided tremendous support. The community nursing team was also amazing and supported not only Chris but also me during his last few weeks at home. Although I had always had jobs that used my nursing experience, I made a decision to go back to a nursing role and subsequently became the NHS North West Director of Nursing.
I have never had any doubts about my decision to become a nurse. Nurses and midwives have a critical role to play in compassionate and safe care for patients, whether in a direct care-giving role, commissioning, policy, research or education. Whatever our particular role is, we all have the same aim, which is providing the best, safe and most effective care for people and the best experience. One of the great privileges of my role is seeing examples of how nurses and midwives do this every day.
Join the conversation. Share your story and a picture of where you started in the NHS on Twitter using #NHSwhereistarted.