First steps into the world of nursing

Nursing is a wonderful profession filled with opportunity but one that always remains grounded in care and clinical practice. Almost every day we hear about great technical advances in healthcare, but research clearly shows that people facing illness continue to need clinically competent nurses who can engage with them and be sensitive to their humanity. To lose sight of this need and this reality is to lose sight of the core of nursing.

The great thing about being a nurse is being able to use our clinical and caring skills to support the health and well-being of those in need. Recognising the privilege of hearing people’s hopes and concerns, the skill of communicating honestly and sensitively and having the generosity to walk that extra step together form the foundation of a fulfilling nursing career.

As you start out on what I hope will be an exciting and rewarding career, it is worth reflecting on why you have chosen this profession, where you are heading and what you want from it, as you build on the work of those who have gone before you, and prepare for those who will follow and will one day look to you for guidance and support.

If you want to work in acute care, remember you have choices, so choose the clinical field you want and where you will work, at a workplace where you think you can be supported and developed and where you will feel satisfied.
As a nurse you will be required to be clinically competent, to support and educate, and to lead care safely and efficiently, but different career pathways will require you to develop some skills to a greater degree. 

Possibilities that lie ahead
Whether you choose to work in an emergency department, a medical or surgical ward, an outpatient clinic, theatres, a specialist unit or intensive care, here are just some of the possibilities that lie ahead for you in the hospital setting:

If you want to focus on clinical expertise, why not consider becoming a ward, theatre or clinic-based nurse, a specialist nurse, a clinical nurse specialist, a nurse practitioner or a consultant nurse?

If you want to work in education, how about becoming a practice development nurse, a clinical tutor, a lecturer practitioner,
a senior lecturer or a professor of nursing?

And if your passion is for leadership, then a ward, theatre or clinic-based team leader, a junior sister or charge nurse, a ward manager, a matron, a lead nurse, a divisional or corporate nurse might be more for you.

Over the next few years, there will be even more creative opportunities and exciting roles for nurses and even more positions of leadership for them in the delivery of patient care and support.

But remember: a great nurse, indeed an expert nurse, knows his or her limitations and knows when to ask for help. A poor nurse is one who thinks he or she needs to know everything. So spend your first year after registration consolidating your knowledge and putting it into practice wherever you work, and use your mentor, preceptor, manager and the rest of your team to support and guide you.

Having worked in healthcare and nursing for nearly 30 years, my advice is this: listen and learn from the personal stories of those you care for as they will have a lot to teach you. Draw on others’ experiences and you will find yourself developing into an expert nurse who is ever mindful of the privilege of being engaged in delivering person-centred care.

Barry Quinn is assistant director of nursing and a visiting senior lecturer, at Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust, London

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