We talk to Bernadette O’Gorman (pictured with Joe McCallum), community matron and manager of paediatric palliative care team Life Force, at Whittington Health in north London, who has been nursing for 30 years.
Why did you become a nurse?
My dad worked in the Royal Army Medical Corps. In my Irish background, nurses were revered. I wanted a career that was challenging and rewarding - in which every day is different and you are always learning.
Where did you train?
I did my general training in Edgware and Barnet, north London, and paediatric conversion at Westminster Children’s Hospital.
What was your first job?
On a busy general paediatric ward - a huge learning curve.
What is the trait you least like in yourself and why?
I am very critical of myself and of my abilities, and that can hold me back sometimes.
It is a hard job physically and emotionally, but rewarding. Nursing changes constantly, so you can never sit still
From whom have you learnt most in your nursing career?
My manager, Michelle Johnson, has just left our organisation. She is incredibly talented and supportive. She has energy and enthusiasm, and can get people on board. She looks for ways to do things better for the child and family. I try to manage my team with some of those traits.
What advice would you give someone starting out?
It is a hard job physically and emotionally, but rewarding. Nursing changes constantly,so you can never sit still.
What’s the most satisfying part of your job?
I work with children who have a life-limiting illness. Despite our best efforts, we can’t always stop the inevitable. My team’s role is to make that as good as we can for the child and family. The most satisfying part is working with all the agencies - health, education, voluntary sector and social care - and seeing them pulling together.
What’s your proudest achievement?
The Life Force team I was asked to set up 11 years ago. The Department of Health cited the team as an example of good practice in 2007. It is highly respected within the paediatric palliative care field.
What will change nursing in the next decade?
Technology. Children and adults who previously would have died can lead productive lives. There is greater focus on community care, so complex conditions will be nursed at home.
What job would you like to be doing in five years?
Still nursing, using my expertise and knowledge to support colleagues. I enjoy working with children and their families.
What makes a good nurse?
Knowledge and skills are important but a good nurse needs compassion and empathy for their patient. They must see them as an individual, advocate on their behalf, and support them and their family. They also need to be an effective team member.
If you could change one thing in healthcare, what would it be?
Adequate, sustainable funding for children’s palliative care to end the postcode lottery.
What would your ideal weekend involve?
My husband organises eventful weekends, such as glamping on a safari park, wine tasting or murder mystery events.
If you could spend an hour with someone, who would it be?
Nelson Mandela, whose philosophy on Robben Island was “each one, teach one”. We can all take something from this.