We talk to Jenny Kay, director of nursing at Darent Valley Hospital, Dartford and Gravesham Trust, who has been in the profession for 31 years.
Why did you decide to become a nurse?
I had a holiday job supporting people with physical and learning disabilities. I loved it - I felt a powerful connection with our clients, which led to a genuine vocation for nursing.
Where did you train?
I did my general nurse training at St Thomas’ Hospital and my children’s training at the Evelina Children’s Hospital at Guy’s.
What was your first job in nursing?
On the surgical ward at Queen Elizabeth Hospital for Children in Hackney, London.
What is the trait you least like in yourself and why?
Impatience - I want everything to happen yesterday.
From whom have you learnt most in your career?
I had a wonderful ward sister when I was a student, Ruth Meadows. She taught me the importance of the ward sister role. More than any other role in nursing, a good ward sister can influence a positive ward culture, and keep patients safe and staff morale high.
What advice would you give someone starting out?
Focus on the basics - spend time reinforcing clinical and communication skills while gaining experience in a variety of community and acute settings. And look after your emotional and mental health - our work can cause emotional burnout so recognise the signs.
What keeps you awake at night?
Not a lot. Thankfully I usually sleep very well.
What’s the most satisfying part of your job?
We’ve done vital work to tackle infections, reduce hospital-acquired pressure ulcers and identify clinical deterioration early. It’s very satisfying to see it have such a positive impact.
What’s your proudest achievement?
I led the design of our trust’s nursing strategy in 2010, which focused on ward-based care (the area of most patient complaints). We created “supervisory” roles for ward sisters, improved nurse staffing levels on the wards, focused on dignity, communication and leadership and set up “Clinical Fridays” when matrons and ward sisters peer reviewed care standards. This has all made a significant difference to patient experience.
This next decade must be about rebuilding confidence in nurses’ ability to care for vulnerable patients with compassion
What do you think is likely to change nursing in the next decade?
The new chief nursing officer’s vision is a really important mark in the sand. The last decade was about infection control, cleanliness and so on. This next one needs to be about rebuilding confidence in the ability of nurses to care for older and vulnerable patients with compassion and dignity.
What do you think makes a good nurse?
The 6Cs in the CNO’s vision say it all: care, compassion, competence, communication, courage and commitment.
What would your ideal weekend involve?
A round of golf with my fellow lady golfers on a lovely autumn day, going to a classical-music concert with my wonderful partner Alan, and trying to beat my parents at Scrabble - they are 88 and 92.
If you could spend an hour in someone’s company, who would it be?
I’d love to spend an hour with Barack Obama.