Sunday, 29 October 2017

And, In the End, what counts is the difference we make

Well the countdown is nearing its end.  Next Tuesday I start my retirement, something that fills me with mixed feelings. My first proper job was with Sainsbury's, the supermarket chain. That feels like a long time ago. I ‘fell’ into nursing in the mid 1970’s, and equally, I ‘fell’ into university life in the mid 1990’s. Both of these major chunks of my adult employment, nursing practice and nurse education, have been immensely fulfilling and very rewarding. So I'm going to be a little self-indulgent with this week’s blog and reminisce for a while.

Qualifying to become a nurse was hard work, but also great fun. My student cohort numbered just 14 students, and we were pioneers of self-directed learning using rudimentary computer based learning materials. I remember my Ward Management assessment involved me taking a mini bus full of service users with complex mental health problems to the Builth Wells Agricultural Show. It was a great day out and I passed my assessment. Once I qualified, I worked in Wales during a time when hospital care for people with learning disabilities was being replaced by community provision. I had a wonderful job as a rehabilitation and resettlement Charge Nurse. One of the ‘skills’ I acquired was to be able to teach others how to use a ‘twin tub’ washing machine to do the laundry – younger readers ask your parents what this means.

I moved to Manchester as the commissioning nurse for an adolescent forensic secure unit in the mid 1980’s and have never really moved out of the North West since that time. Whilst ‘going where no RMN has gone before’ was exciting, after a while the forensic service didn’t provide the challenge I wanted.  I became the Nursing Officer for acute and community mental health nursing services just as we were developing some of the first community mental health centres in the country – it was my first real taste of what can be achieved through effective multi-disciplinary working. It was a brilliant time and absolutely prepared me for next role, as Director of Regional Specialist mental health services, most of which were provided across the entire North West Region, whereas others were national specialist services.

If I wanted challenges I certainly got them with this role. The first was beating my boss to securing the job, a real challenge the day after I started! However, he was a good man, and became a great colleague and friend. He even taught me to play golf, and yes, way back then, a group of us health service managers and clinicians would occasionally spend Friday afternoon playing a round of golf. Definitely a different era…

And then 22 years ago I moved from the NHS to HEI, and started a second career as a University Lecturer. It took me 10 years to become a professor. The path was a tough one at times, but I did benefit from having a couple of mentors and colleagues who provided me with many opportunities, something that I have tried to do throughout my university career. In 2007, I became the first Executive Dean at my university, head up a School of Nursing. It was a dream come true and a dream job bringing together my love of nursing and my passion for education and research! 

Looking back over this time I am very grateful to have been provided with so many opportunities; opportunities to travel the world; opportunities to gain a voice in presenting papers at conferences, and publishing in journals and books. I’ve been fortunate to meet so many people, some famous, many not, but each one has added something to my view of the world and helped make me the person I am today. Of course I am remembering the good bits, and there were many, but I along the way, I have made mistakes and some of my decisions haven’t been that clever. Thankfully, I have always had family, friends and some wonderful colleagues to help me through those times.

It was one of my colleagues who inspired me to use social media as way to share what it was I was interested in and what I was doing. I started writing this blog, in the summer of 2009, and every Sunday since then I have posted a blog. It has been a great opportunity to talk about my thoughts on the world I find myself in, the one I contribute to and the world I would still like to see. And thank you dear reader for allowing me this indulgence. Whether this is your first experience or you have been reading them since the start, your support has been brilliant. Thank you.

As for the future? Well subject to the University Senate approving my application, I will gain my Professor Emeritus status. This will allow me to still use my voice in pursuit of my ambition to improve the care and opportunities for those who experience a mental health problem. As a society we have come a long way since the mid 1970’s and the start of my journey, but there is still a long way to go if we are to truly stamp out the self and societal stigma still associated with those who experience mental health problems.  

The last line, of the last song (The End), on the last album the Beatles ever made, has been described as 'this is how you finish a career'. Despite my retirement, I am not finished yet, and I guess many readers of this blog will be in the same position. So taking the liberty of a couple of small changes I leave you with almost Paul McCartney’s lyrics:

And, in the end
What really counts
Is the difference we make

And yes, I will be here, same place, same time next Sunday…