The 12 May 2023 is International Nurses Day a day of recognition of the invaluable contribution of the nurse in society. The 12 May is also the birthday of Florence Nightingale. Nurses have been making a difference since the days of Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole and before when villages and communities had local wise women who would act as Midwives who cared for the sick and dying with herbs and potions. Considering this I thought I would share with you my experience of being a nurse over the last 23 years.
During this time, I have worked in the NHS, a couple of hospices and now for Hugh James as their in-house Respiratory Nurse Advisor. But one thing has underpinned all of these jobs, and that is the ethos of caring for others in a holistic manner often in times of fundamental life changes and as people come to terms with their own mortality.
As a nurse I have had the privilege of being a part of someone’s life when they are at their most vulnerable and being able to make a difference in their life. Be this with a young gay HIV patient who was too scared to tell his parents that he had HIV due to the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in the early days and so died on a hospital ward alone. Being able to validate him as being worthwhile, dress his wounds and ensure his pain was under control and ensure he felt safe whilst on the ward was so rewarding. To lung cancer patients who again felt stigmatised because they had smoked and even those who hadn’t smoked feeling judged by others as the public perception is that you only get lung cancer if you smoke.
Having the honour of attending a Parliamentary meeting to raise awareness of lung cancer and the disparity of funding for research in the field of lung cancer compared to other cancers, taking the patient voice right to the centre of politics. As a nurse we are often an advocate for our patients even in the clinical setting ensuring patients and their families are included in decisions around their care and have access to treatment.
We must have a breadth of knowledge and expertise so that we can ensure patients get access to treatment and whilst on treatment be able to assess and advise them on the potential side effects to keep them safe.
One of the mesothelioma patients I cared for was a young man who had multiple treatments and really struggled with side effects and despite all attempts his mesothelioma continued to progress. He was coming to clinic and the view was he had run out of all treatment options and would be for palliative care only. However, due to working closely with some of the major pharmaceutical companies I had a good overview of new emerging treatments and was able to talk to the treating Consultant about applying for compassionate access to immunotherapy which was not NICE approved at that time.
This resulted in an application being made to a leading pharmaceutical company and this young man being granted permission by the company to have free treatment. The outcome was he had a good response and was able to see his wife have IVF and have a baby, he told the Consultant when he was reaching the end of his life that thanks to the care and treatment, he had received he had been able to be a dad even if it was only for one year.
Nurses work in a variety of settings, in the Armed Forces delivering care in the midst of war, in charities providing relief in times of natural disasters such as famine and earthquakes. To GP practices and community clinics utilising expert skills and knowledge to make a difference. We are a highly skilled and professional workforce and Covid really demonstrated the value of our role to the Nation.
The theme for International Nurses Day this year is “Our Nurses, Our Future” as we celebrate nurses on the 12 May it is good to have an understanding of the contribution nurses make and say thank you for they service they provide and ensure that as profession they are protected as a workforce for the benefit of future generations.