Forty years and still going strong: the variety of a nursing life

Sue Burgis is head of practice development and innovation at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and has worked for the NHS for over 40 years. In the NHS’s 70th anniversary year, she reflects on her training and experiences and why nursing at Imperial was such a good career choice.

I trained at Charing Cross Hospital in 1978, and was a student nurse living in hospital accommodation on Hammersmith Broadway behind the old West London Hospital. Every day I used to walk to the school of nursing, which is now the education centre at Charing Cross Hospital, as that was where we did all of our classroom based teaching.

I then moved into accommodation at Parsons House, and we had a space in the bottom of the building where we used to have parties. Our social life revolved around that site, and we used to have regular discos with the medical school that were based around the corner. That’s how I lived for almost three and a half years.

Having moved on from Charing Cross Hospital after a few years for other nursing opportunities, I ended up at St Mary’s Hospital in 2004 as the clinical operations manager for the intensive care unit (ICU). I found it was a lovely place to work, everyone knew each other, and I became the resident intensive care expert/senior nurse at the Trust. Although the unit was a centre of excellence clinically, its appearance sadly didn’t reflect that – the building was in dire need of a refurbishment. Luckily it was during my time in that role that we managed to secure funding for the new intensive care unit to be built. An outbreak of multi-resistant bacteria in the old unit nearly caused us to close. We battled with this wretched thing for many weeks. I think the outbreak drove our successful bid for funding for the new unit. I’m very proud of what we built, and I would consider my proudest moment professionally to be the first day we went up to the new ICU, because we had moved the entire unit within 24 hours. There was a huge amount of preparation and training beforehand, including taking staff up to the new unit while it was under construction with their hard hats on to get them used to the layout and the environment. I made sure that a lot of the staff were included in the design process and in the lead up to moving out of the old unit.

After 10 years in ICU I moved to the patient safety team as the associate director of patient safety. This gave me strategic insight into the Trust, but I think I missed being in a nursing role, so I felt very lucky when I was offered a position as head of practice development in 2014 and I’ve been here ever since. My role entails me overseeing changes and developments to practice, and developing guidelines and policies to support working with colleagues across the Trust.

Having been involved in multiple aspects of nursing and healthcare, I have gained so much knowledge, and it’s great to be able to share that with others. I was involved in setting up the Trust’s ward accreditation programme which is in its fourth year. As part of this programme, each clinical area is reviewed once a year by a team of senior staff who undertake a four-hour unannounced inspection, where they rate the area against a set of criteria. It’s great to be able to peer review ourselves and offer support and help to others. I think it is important that when we find things that we’re doing really well, we share them. It is also important to look for areas where we can do better and to discuss that too. It took quite a lot of organising, but I’m proud of the fact that this process is now embedded as a ‘business as usual’ practice.

The nursing profession is going through a difficult time at the moment – so it’s even more important that I get to find out what our nurses think and what their challenges are so I can help work to resolve them. The springboard leadership course has come out of the ward accreditation scheme, and this bespoke leadership course is a great way to prepare nurses and midwives for their roles as leaders on wards.

Training to be a nurse is an invaluable experience, and will provide those who take it up with a wide range of skills. When I started my training I was a young, naïve 18-year-old, but I came out the other side with a huge range of skills, including the ability to talk to a variety of people at different levels of seniority and from different backgrounds – it’s such a fantastic preparation for life. We do now seem to have a shortage of trained nurses and need to urgently address this to ensure our profession remains as special as it has always been. I think it’s fantastic how nurses are being encouraged to develop a more autonomous practice and there are many more career opportunities nowadays for nurses to further their skills to PhD level and beyond.

After 40 years in the NHS, I can truly say I enjoy coming to work every day and being part of a profession and an organisation that is so passionately committed to great patient care.

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