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'I had to think differently about nursing'

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Nadia Chambers is the national coach for QIPP, where she influences many nurses. But her work is still inspired by her original desire to care for patients

A childhood illness whetted Nadia Chambers’s appetite for nursing. “I was always going to become a nurse. When I was four, I had pneumonia and was in a big old Victorian children’s hospital in London, the Evelina. I spent most of my time in an oxygen tent, and was very sick. But the nurses were all very kind and, even at that age, I was fascinated by what was going on around me.

“I passed my 11+, A-levels and Oxbridge entrance exams, and my teachers thought it was appalling that I was going to be a nurse and not a doctor. I could pick up the bits of medicine that I wanted to but I was more interested in helping someone when they couldn’t do things for themselves, and learning how to do that well.”

Despite falling in love with nursing as a child, it was a stint on a paediatric ward while in training that nearly made her regret her decision: “I couldn’t cope with sick babies and toddlers because you just can’t explain things to them.”

Ms Chamber’s started out as a staff nurse in Portsmouth’s Queen Alexandra hospital, in intensive and coronary care. Through various roles as a senior staff nurse and night sister, she found herself drawn to teaching.

After working as a lecturer/practitioner at the University of Portsmouth - and working nursing shifts at weekends - she became a nurse consultant at Southampton University Hospitals Trust, a role that “could not have been more perfect”. In this post, she had ample opportunities to influence the commissioning of services that combined health and adult social care.

This led to her most recent role as clinical director for long term conditions at South Central Strategic Health Authority. She is now on secondment as a national coach for the long term conditions QIPP team, working for Sir John Oldham.

She acknowledges this post may seem at odds with her original desires. “I had to think differently about nursing, and realised that I can influence patient care in different ways. I can work with lots of teams and influence more people. Nurses like to be all things to all people, but thinking strategically enables you to realise that you can’t be everywhere at once.

“What’s nice is when I spend a few hours with a team that is struggling, and work with them, helping them to think through how to take their work forward, and then they come back and show me how far they have got with it.”

She also mentors nurse leaders, and analyses patient feedback. “If I felt it was just theoretical, my heart would not be in it. It has to mean something - everything I do has to improve the patient’s experience or support a colleague to improve the patient’s experience.

Ms Chambers received her OBE in 2009. “When the envelope came through the door, I thought it was a wind-up from a friend, but the official language and all the wax seals made me think it was real. I phoned my mum straight away, but you can’t tell anyone else until after they announce the New Year’s Honours list on 31 December, so I had to keep quiet about it.

“I treasure that award, and my husband is always on at me to put up my certificate up in the study, but I haven’t, and I rarely use OBE after my name - not because I don’t value it but because it’s not the culture I’m used to. Anyway, to me, thank you letters from patients are just as treasured.”

She says that, while the public may think nursing is a thankless task, most nurses have an experience at least once a week, if not daily, that shows the role is worthwhile.

She suggests that nurses should get outside of their comfort zone. “My advice to nurses is to get involved - don’t wait for a minister to invite you - volunteer, get involved. The NHS is making radical changes and nurses have to get themselves out there and be in the centre of the action and lead things. These big reforms need a range of voices, and nurses can not influence change unless they are involved.”

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