Sunday, 15 March 2015

Celebrating Alzbeta Hanzlikova’s Passion for Nursing, a Gold Medal, and the Shape of Caring

Just 5 hours ago I was at Liverpool John Lennon Airport. Michael O’Leary, Ryanair's Chief Executive, had once again delivered its passengers and its advertising promise of getting his no frills flights back on time.  His no frills airline really does deliver what it says on the can and you really do get what you pay for. I was flying Ryanair as it was the only airline able to get me from the North West to Bratislava in Slovakia on Thursday and back again on Saturday for less than the cost of a small car.

I was travelling to the Jessenius Faculty of Medicine, the medical teaching and research arm of the Comenius University located in Martin in Slovakia. This is one of the most prestigious university’s in the region and leads the way in terms of medical and health research. Martin is a 3 hour express train journey from Bratislava, and connections required taxi journeys through cities at rush hours, so much of last Thursday and yesterday was spent travelling. Why, you might be asking did I travel all that way for just one day? Well I was there to be part of the memorial conference that celebrated the life and work of Alzbeta Hanzlikova. Alzbeta died in late 2012. Her life’s work was in promoting the profession of nursing and she was passionate about ensuring the education of nurses was evidence based, and scientific in orientation.  

I first met Alzbeta back in 1995 when I accompanied my then Head of School to present a paper to what was then a fledgling international nurse education conference. She was an inspirational lady, who really had a 'can do' approach to life. She started to learn English when she was aged 50 as she realised that English was the ‘official language of science’ and she needed to get her research papers published in English language journals. The conference acknowledged her impact on nurse education, and not just in Slovakia but much further afield. She championed the advancement that research could bring and tirelessly worked at enabling nurses to gain their PhD.

The last official act of the day was the unveiling of a memorial plaque in the entrance hall of the School of Nursing. I am not sure what Alzbeta would have thought about this very public recognition of her life and work as she was a very modest person. My feeling was that it was a very appropriate, somewhat affectionate but well deserved sign of how much her work meant to so many people.  

I have supported the conference ever since 1995 and have attended each conference, being pleased to present my work and help others with getting their work published and shared.  I have been part of the scientific committee for a number of years now. What I didn't know until last Friday was that back in 1995, nobody in Slovakia had seen a man wearing clogs, and apparently my clogs were a regular topic of conversation each time I attended the conference. Even last Friday they once more got a mention, possibly because they were the bright red ones!

I don’t speak much Slovak, and I am usually helped by a translator/interpreter. However I was surprised to see my name appear in a presentation with many others whose work was being recognised by the award of a Gold Medal of Merit. I was duly presented with my medal for my contribution to university education for nurses in Slovakia. I was both immensely proud and humbled in equal manner. The last activity of the day was a dinner (at which all of Alzbeta's family attended). Vegetarian food doesn't really exist in Slovakia, but the wine flowed as did the conversation and stories told.

The first paper I co-presented at the 1995 conference was based upon an analysis of changes to nurse education in the UK and many of the papers I've presented since have touched upon further changes to nurse education and their impact upon service development or provision. Interestingly for me, just as I started my journey last week, the Raising the Bar: the Shape of Caring Review report was published. Chaired by Lord Willis, and commissioned jointly by Health Education England and the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the report makes 34 recommendations for changes to the future education of nurses and care assistants in the UK.

Having lots of time on planes and trains over the last few days I have read the report and commentary – read here. It’s worth reading the report in full. It’s balanced in its approach to recommending what needs to change and why, but still open to solutions that need more work in their development for implementation. The focus of the report is one that Alzbeta would recognise and probably agree with: ensuring pre-registration education equips the nurses of the future with a wider skill set; the need for on-going and life-long education; and the clear recognition of the association between high quality education, research and patient care. 

The reports title also resonated with me, and particularly today, which in the UK is Mother's Day. For many people the shape of caring is personified in the relationship between Mother and their children. Later on today, we will have four generations of family in the house celebrating just such relationships, and instead of using Ryanair, I will draw upon the ‘magic’ of digital communication to share and include others members of my family living across the globe in the celebration. And Mum, if there was a Gold Medal for Mothers, you would get one!