I was just one month past my 18th birthday when I started my nurse training at West Glamorgan School of Nursing. I trained at Morriston and Neath General Hospitals qualifying as Registered General Nurse in November 1985.
I have worked in both north and south Wales – and had a brief sojourn across the border working in Cheshire but at the start of my career I stayed on home territory, working in south Wales – for some of the time at the hospital where I and both my sons were born - Neath General. I started off work as a general nurse in coronary care but then then trained as a midwife quickly followed by health visitor training and it was there I found my passion.
My heart is still very much in tackling poverty and the health inequalities it causes. The Principles of Health Visiting – which are pretty old now – are still as important today – perhaps even more so - as they were in the 70s when published by the UKCC. These principles have guided me since I first realised their significance, my job titles have varied but my professional value base hasn’t. As a student health visitor, my eyes were opened to so much of the world and I soon realised that health wasn’t solely about healthcare, and I learned well about the broader determinants of health during my clinical placement in Townhill and Mayhill, Swansea. It was there I read the Black report and about the work of Dr Julian Tudor Hart, who is an iconic figure to me, his work was and is, inspirational, it’s helped shape strategic direction and service provision for decades.
Learning gained as health visitor changed me, both personally and professionally. For me, it has been an absolute privilege to be part of something that aims to make a real and sustainable difference to the lives of children, young people, families and communities. After consolidating health visiting practice in Neath, I moved to North Wales. This was a huge change for me, leaving the valleys where I was born and bred, spreading my wings to the beauty of North Wales, with a new family and a different culture to settle in with. I learned so much from my colleagues in the north about rurality, accessibility of services and the fundamental importance of culture and language in health and wellbeing. Having spent 10 years living and working across the North Wales coast, North Wales and the people there will always have a big piece of my heart. Having undertaken a role of school nurse, I was fortunate to gain a certificate of school nursing at Bangor University, which led me into studying for a Master’s degree in Education at Bangor University. This was a wonderful opportunity to work alongside people from other professions including health professionals, social workers and teachers. The whole time I was garnering exposure to new ways of thinking which positioned me well to be appointed as one of the first Consultant Nurses in the UK, this heralded an enormous promotion for me, with the inherent learning curve that came with it, especially as the post was in Cheshire, a different country policy context.It was an amazing learning experience and was the first of three consultant nursing posts I held.
The second came after the development of consultant nurse roles in Wales, following Devolution, when I got what I look back on as one of the best jobs – ever… consultant nurse in child health, in Conwy and Denbighshire. My focus was on tackling inequalities in health faced by children and young people, centred on west Rhyl, which at the time was the most multi-deprived ward in Wales. It was at a time when the partnership agenda was developing at pace, with Welsh Government eager to tackle inequalities, through funding enabled by Cynorth. This was a time when new and innovative ways to maximise the health of children and young people living in poverty could be developed in partnership with other agencies and sectors, and I feel so privileged to have been able to help shape some of the developments that hopefully made a real difference to the lives of children and young people, some of whom now, possibly, have children of their own.
But I wanted to come home – back to south Wales - so I took a third consultant nurse role – this time working in the field of sexual health and teenage pregnancy in Pontypridd and Rhondda. This was another amazing opportunity – I have been so blessed in my nursing career. Again there was the opportunity to look for ways in meeting the health needs of young people working with other agencies that added value and made a difference. After a short time in my first management role in Powys, I was appointed as a Head of Nursing for Localities, within Cwm Taf University Health Board. My focus there was once again communities, at a time when the Designed for Life identified a changing strategic direction for service delivery in Wales, It mooted the need to develop primary and community care. This gave real opportunity for joint working and more formal partnerships, particular between health and social care and the third sector.
Reading back through this blog, there are a lot of ‘I’s in it! I’m always uncomfortable with that. Anything I have been able to influence or achieve is because of the team of people I have been part of and I have been so fortunate to work with many inspirational people who I have been able to learn from and grow with. I have never been afraid to ask the stupid questions and luckily enough, there has always been someone who has helped me along the way. Having had such a focus on implementing strategic direction, through service provision and using practice to influence policy, I grasped the opportunity to join the Royal College of Nursing in Wales, appreciating the high level of professional and political influence it wielded. This job has certainly given me unrivalled political and professional exposure and I’ve developed significantly as a result.
I am now returning to a senior nursing role within a health board armed with new knowledge and experience that I’m hoping will be of benefit to the people who use the services provided by the health board, as well as those who provide them.
Nursing has never been ‘just a job’, it is a massive part of who I am.