A Calling for Nursing

As part of International Nurses’ Day, we would like to share some inspirational stories from our Old Girls who became nurses themselves.  Both Louise and Julie got in touch to share their experiences, which highlight the importance of nursing and the impact COVID-19 has had on the healthcare profession.

Julie Watkinson (McCrum) (1984)

I cannot believe I am about to write that I have been a nurse for 37 years, if you include my training years, having started the year after I left Farnborough Hill.  How time flies when you have a career you love.

The two pictures included mark my first day as a student nurse in September 1985 and (possibly) my last day in an operational role in December 2021.  I say, possibly, because you just never know.

I cannot pinpoint the exact time I decided that I was going to be a nurse, but I have no recollection of ever wanting to do anything else, although I seem to remember Mrs Berry did inspire me to consider becoming a Games teacher at one point.  I always loved surgical nursing but have specialist qualifications in palliative care, tissue viability (wound and pressure sore management) and stoma care - where a patient has had their bowel or urinary system diverted through their abdomen and they wear a bag to manage this.

Nursing has changed so much in the time I have been doing it.  In my early days, nurses very much carried out a doctor’s orders, but now nurses hold specialist roles and lead teams of healthcare professionals, including doctors, in various fields in their own right.

The confidence and leadership skills I gained in my time at Farnborough Hill led me to take on my first management role as a ward sister at just 24, and I have led, supported and developed nurses, other healthcare professionals and teams ever since.  During the first wave of the pandemic, my team had to change their surgical nursing skills to those required to nurse elderly and end of life COVID-positive patients.  As you might imagine, dealing with any unknown enemy, this caused as much anxiety in them as in the general population, and I had to pull on all my years of leadership experience to help them believe they could do it and support them through that period.  They were complete superstars, and it was one of the highlights of the career I have loved for so long.  I have laughed and cried in equal measure but never, ever regretted my choice.

Louise Parker (Davis) (1999)

I work substantively at The Royal Free Hospital, London, but I am currently on a secondment to The Royal College of Nursing, Nursing Practice Department. I can honestly say I cannot remember not wanting to be a nurse. I did not want a ‘desk job’ and I like talking to people.

Nurses are highly trained and safety critical members of the healthcare workforce with a plethora of transferable skills, and this has never been more evident than through the pandemic.  Many nurses were redeployed to other roles, areas and places of work in order to help deliver whatever support was required.  I worked part time in ICU whilst working the rest of the week looking after my department so we could still ensure our own long-term condition patients were looked after.  The resilience, hard work and solidarity shown by all my colleagues was humbling to see and it was an awful but extra-ordinary event to be part of.

As International Nurses’ Day is celebrated on Florence Nightingale’s birthday, it seems fitting to use one of her many quotes that I feel still resonates today:

‘For us who Nurse, Nursing is a thing, which, unless we are making progress every year, every month, every week, take my word for it we are going back. The more experience we gain, the more progress we can make’