Be somebody’s Beryl

RCN steward Hilary Nelson reflects on the huge impact one nursing support worker had on her career

I was just 17 when I started my nurse training. All my friends were heading off to university but I’d never been away from home. I was excited to start my nursing journey, but everything felt strange.

On placement I trotted off down to the ward to begin my first ever shift as a student nurse. My uniform was neatly ironed, there wasn't a mark on my pristine white lace-up shoes and my tights were intact.

Hilary

Hilary Nelson 

But as they let me into the locked ward where I was to start my career, the excitement of that first day began to fade and nerves crept in.

At report the senior charge nurse allocated me a registered nurse as a mentor but instructed me to accompany Beryl, a health care support worker, as she went about her duties.

I was terrified but I went with Beryl who literally took me by the hand and showed me the ward. She showed me where things were, instructed me on the routine, and we went about the whole day together.

What I needed at that point wasn’t more academic information. I needed Beryl’s knowledge and experience. She was probably in her 60s and had been caring all her life. 

She was the complete caring professional

Beryl knew her job and executed it perfectly. What she did stayed with me for my entire career. She could talk to anyone on any level. She spoke to consultants and domestics with the same respect and kindness. She taught me that too.

For seven weeks I stuck to her like glue. She taught me so much of what I know today. She was the complete caring professional.

Be proud

Fast-forward 25 years and when I observe support workers today I see them all as someone's “Beryl”.

I’m now based in the intensive care unit in Forth Valley. I’ve worked in this area for almost my entire career and I’ve had an amazing journey to where I am today.

In 2019 support workers are still central to the work the department does. If we have a question about a patient, we so often turn to support workers. They’ve usually been there the longest and are often the most experienced. We honestly couldn’t function without them but I fear this is sometimes forgotten.

I wouldn’t have the career I have without support workers. As professionals they support, nurture and teach patients, students, registered nurses and the wider health care team every single day.

There were many more support workers who helped me along the way but Beryl stands out. And while times have changed and nowadays many support workers are taking on more responsibilities, Beryl didn’t want an extended role. She was content looking after patients and she did it brilliantly. 

Beryl is the person I identify as having the biggest impact on my entire career

After two and a half decades of nursing, Beryl is the person I identify as having the biggest impact on my entire career. I would not have survived those first seven weeks without her.

So I want support workers, in whatever role they’re doing, to realise the far-reaching impact they have on colleagues as well as patients. Be proud of being someone's Beryl.


Sound familiar? 

Is there a nursing support worker who has helped you in your nursing career? 

Email health.care@rcn.org.uk to tell us all about them. We'd love to hear from you.

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