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How do I become ... a nurse lecturer?

We talk to Intellectual Disability Nursing lecturer, Fintan Sheerin, about what makes his job so worthwhile

Why did you decide to do this role?

“I was always a trouble-maker as a nurse and invariably found myself questioning the ethical bases of practices or trying to advocate for the rights of people with intellectual disabilities. I always questioned things! I suppose it was for that reason that I wanted to get more knowledge and this led me along the path of academic development, from undergraduate to doctorate degrees.”

What qualifications did you need for your position?

“I needed to have a professional registration in intellectual disability nursing along with a minimum of a master degree. Increasingly, though, lecturers are being expected to have commenced or completed a PhD.”

What jobs and experiences have led you to your present job?

“I drifted into nursing many years ago after stints in the Roman Catholic religious life and the bank! I also dropped out of two universities prior to starting nursing. So, mine may not be the usual path. I mention these experiences because they were important formative aspects in my career as a nurse and I can say that many of the earlier strands of my life have come together to lead me to where I am now. It’s quite amazing when you look back.

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“When I completed intellectual disability nursing in 1988, I worked for a while as a staff nurse. I returned to intellectual disability services for another 4 years, again working in a behavioural unit and later took up an intellectual disability nurse tutor post. I returned to orthopaedic nursing and undertook education in spinal cord injuries at Sheffield following which I worked as a clinical facilitator and then for 4 years as lecturer-practitioner in spinal cord injuries nursing at the Irish National Spinal Injuries Unit, Mater Misericordiae University Hospital. During this time, I completed my PhD in intellectual disabilities and had an opportunity to apply for a post as lecturer at the School of Nursing and Midwifery, Trinity College Dublin. I was successful and have worked there for nearly 6 years.”

What do you do in your day-to-day role?

“For me, every day is different. There is an image of a lecturer teaching classes and then sitting in his/her office doing nothing! Sometimes that is the case but doing nothing can sometimes provide the time when one has an opportunity to consider realities and perspectives. Sadly, I do not have many of these opportunities during work hours. The concept of ‘work hours’ is an interesting one as my contract does not identify hours. It is accepted that you spend as many hours as it takes to get your job done!

“The job itself has a number of aspects: academic teaching; research; administration; contribution to college; and contribution to society/discipline. Only the first of these is actually counted towards real workload. As an academic, I teach content that largely relates to the area of my research activity. For me, as noted, this is around human rights issues. My research informs both my teaching and my contribution to society/discipline. I undertake teaching at other colleges in Europe under the Erasmus programme and speak at international events and conferences. These events provide opportunities for meeting people with vastly different perspectives which often leads me to posit new possibilities. I am also required to write papers and book chapters, something that I really love, as it helps me to work out my thoughts and ideas.”

What are the skills that are most important for your job?

“The ability to question everything. Openness to alternative realities and possibilities. An idealist perspective tinged with a little pragmatism. Innovation, motivation and enthusiasm for the issues which are central to the lives of people who have intellectual disabilities.”

What is your favourite part of your job?

“The participatory social action is by far my favourite part. I have had to relearn everything I thought I knew and this is really exciting.”

And what is your least favourite part?

“To be absolutely honest, I totally love my job and I could not identify a least favourite part!”

What has been your greatest achievement?

“This may sound somewhat trite but my greatest achievement has been reaching a point in my career, during my late 40s, when I can say that I really love what I am doing, am passionate about it and am totally driven.”

What advice would you give someone who wanted to do this role?

“Identify the values that led you to undertake nursing and hold onto them. Keep them at the centre of everything you do but be prepared for them to be challenged. Listen to people with intellectual disabilities; read widely as there is relevant knowledge to be found in many areas other than those prescribed in the nursing curriculum. Identify others whose ideas appear to harmonise with yours and contact them by email. This will provide you with the opportunity to develop your knowledge and perspectives. Do likewise with those who hold contrary ideas. This is part of your informal education. Educate yourself formally too – this is a necessary part of the journey – but ensure that you focus your research on an area that you are passionate about. It may be a long, and sometimes painful, road but it is worth it in the end. Good luck!”

Fintan Sheerin works as a lecturer in intellectual disability nursing at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland.

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