This morning was my début as a guest speaker at the University of the West of Scotland, talking to the first year student nurses about my personal nursing journey, and why I think care home nursing needs a fresh-faced and dynamic ambassador. Someone like me for example.
I spoke candidly to the students about my own personal experience, much as I did at my Flying Start presentation. I described how I felt being left behind while my other classmates all secured posts. How nursing homes were a dreaded and undesirable last resort in our inexperienced student opinions and how I have come to realise exactly how wrong we were. I’m now trying to rectify that by campaigning to improve the way nursing homes are viewed, championing student experience within my own care home in the hope that other homes may follow suit and reaching out to other nurses with my personal #allnursesmatter crusade across social media.
I addressed a few common myths which I have encountered regarding care home nursing. It is widely viewed as a stop-gap to tide the newly qualified over until an NHS post is secured. Nursing home posts are seen as an easy option whilst waiting for a real job. Where the notion that my job is easy has come from is beyond my comprehension. There is nothing easy about being in sole charge of a 20 bedded dementia unit and handling all the different co-morbidities and developing mental states of 20 individual residents, not to mention 20 sets of sometimes difficult families to be kept updated and reassured, and then having to manage four junior staff members to a level never encountered on placement. All that and more beyond legible description could very easy be far too much for a fledgling nurse to handle. To clarify: it is not easy by any stretch of the imagination, not even now 18 months in.
The other myth which angers me most of all is the declaration that nursing home nurses lose their skills. Well which skills, tell me, do you think I have lost? Because I regularly take bloods; I give high risk medication like insulin and warfarin; I am in charge of storage, ordering and management of all the medication in my unit; I change catheters, female, male and supra-pubic; I give vaccinations; I give controlled drugs; I assess and redress wounds; I deal with emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes; I give palliative care and have become proficient at setting up syringe drivers. In fact I do everything a district nurse does. I am a community nurse. It is just that I carry out my care throughout a 12 hour shift within the resident’s communal home instead of travelling around the community 9-5. And yet nobody claims that district nurses lose their skills.
I am a community nurse providing care for those unable to continue living in their own home. It is important that we keep people living in their own homes as long as is possible, but if there comes a time when this is no longer viable, they come to me. They come to the nursing home and are assisted to live as independently as possible whilst receiving 24 hour nursing care. We are the next logical step in the chain of community care, yet my job is for some reason not valued and nor is the incredible care quality we strive to provide. If I said I was a community nurse nobody bat an eyelid, yet when I say I am a care home nurse I am met with sympathy and consolation. I am pitied and told I will find a real job soon. Since when did “real” become a synonym for “NHS”? I have a real job, and it is an important one.
And may I remind you all, that scrubs nurses lose their skills too: they lose the skills of nursing conscious patients. A&E nurses lose their skills of running a ward. Gynae nurses lose their skills of nursing men. Does that make any of them inferior? All nurse lose a certain amount of skills, and they become expert in others. All specialisms require different expertise, and this is something to be celebrated. I personally came in to nursing because of the huge diversity available in the field. Care home nursing is not for everyone. But neither is High Dependency, or Oncology, or Acute Mental Health Admissions. There is so much that nurses do from birth to death, from Health Visitors to Hospice Nurses. And we are all wonderful, and we all matter.
Sometimes my friends introduce me and say “This is V, she’s a nurse. She saves lives!” And I always correct them because that is not quite accurate, although I totally could save your life if I needed to. I look after people at the end of their lives. I ensure that my residents live well right up to their last days, and I am there for them at the end. It is my job to make sure they have a good, peaceful, and comfortable death. This is not something that many people are comfortable discussing. It is however an essential, difficult and vital part of nursing. Life is part of death, and looking after people at the end is just as important as it is throughout the rest of their lives.
You may not think my cause is relevant to you, but at some stage every one of will have a relative in a care home. Do you not want the care your relatives to receive to be the very best, delivered by wonderful passionate nurses who really are devoted to making a positive difference? This cause is relevant to everyone. Care home nurses should be proud of what they do, and other nurses need to stop looking down on nursing homes. We should have each other’s backs, especially in this day and age.
I will fight this cause as long as I have to and I hope I have made a few student nurses think a little more openly today. I hope I have planted a seed at least, and that I can continue to do so. I am grateful to UWS for giving me the opportunity to speak today and look forward to continuing to work alongside them. I thoroughly enjoyed standing on the other side of the lecture podium today. Not so long ago I was sitting in class with a predetermined plan post reg that went disastrously awry, nearly took my mental well-being with it and has resulted in an incredibly steep learning curve and plans being rewritten. Yet I got here. I cannot tell you the thrill and elation I am currently revelling in after swaggering into to my former uni, not having to park in the student car park because I am a guest speaker and standing in front of a class of future nurses just two years after I have qualified. Things are turning out well, and the future continues to look bright.