“It is a privilege to help people during their most difficult times”: Meet Gillian Chumbley

Gillian Chumbley, nurse consultant, has worked at the Trust for 20 years and today marks her 45th year with the NHS. She offers insights into her lengthy research career and changes she has witnessed throughout her many years in the healthcare industry.

How long have you worked at the Trust?

I have been working at the Trust for 20 years and today, Monday 6 March, marks my 45th year with the NHS.

Initially I was employed as the lead nurse for the pain service at the Trust and in 2007 I became nurse consultant, which is the role I have maintained since. Fifty percent of my role is teaching, and research and the other fifty percent is clinical.

What do you love most about this role?

Working with patients has remained the motivating factor throughout my career. It is a privilege to help people during their most difficult times. In my chronic pain clinic, I see people who have been in pain for years and it is heartening to make a difference to their quality of life.

Can you elaborate on your research throughout your career?

My PhD looked at patient views of patient-controlled analgesia, whereby we give patients a button through which they can manage their own pain and administer themselves morphine or fentanyl. My PhD asked patients how they felt about dosing themselves and how we can prepare them to do this.

Then after 27 years in the health service, I managed to get a sponsored trip to Perth to shadow Professor Stephan Schug and learn about his pioneering use of ketamine in pain management. I brought my learning back to the Trust and with my wonderful colleague, Dr Nicky Stranix, established a ketamine service in our Trust and guidelines for administering ketamine to patients. Our guidelines are now worldwide and patients at our Trust have been able to access ketamine since 2005, which has been revolutionary. After this, I applied for an NIHR postdoctoral research grant to establish whether we could use ketamine to prevent patients from getting long-term pain after surgery.

Overall, my research has revolved around ketamine and the safe prescribing of opioids - I was the nurse for Europe in a taskforce in 2020 looking at the safe prescribing of opioids - and most recently, I have been researching how the friendly bacteria in our gut is linked to pain management.

Today marks the start of your 45th year with the NHS. What are some of the changes you’ve seen over the years?

One big development is that senior nurses can now maintain patient-facing roles. When I started in 1978 the career structure for nurses was very limited. You either became a ward sister, went into management or pursued more specialist or teaching roles. Nowadays there is much more diversity, and the beauty of the nurse consultant role is that you can still have a patient-facing role whilst simultaneously doing teaching and research.

Another big development has been nursing research. In 1978 nurses in research didn’t exist but now nurses are seen as essential in conducting leading edge research focused on the needs of patients and the public.

Nursing has greatly advanced over the years. The things that nurses now do routinely, such as giving intravenous drugs, endoscopies and having their own patient caseload, were not done by nurses in 1978.

Why would you encourage other people to pursue a career in the NHS based on your experiences?

I had always wanted to be a nurse; my mother was a nurse and there had been midwives in our family line before her. However, putting my bias aside, every day of my career with the NHS has been different, interesting and rewarding. There has been challenging times and it is no secret that the NHS is going through a particular crisis right now, but I have always believed in the NHS and the role that nurses perform.

My colleagues might see me as one of the first nurses to build a research career and I think that us trailblazers are now seeing nurses join the NHS who have the potential to have an even bigger influence than us. Our legacy has been to encourage and train others to follow in our footsteps and I couldn’t be prouder of this.

Never for one minute have I considered getting a job outside of the NHS since I started in 1978.

Finally, if you could sum up your career with the NHS in one word, what would it be?