We talk to Catherine Walshe, senior lecturer in palliative care at the International Observatory on End of Life Care, who has been a nurse for 27 years.
Why did you become a nurse?
As a child I wanted to be a pianist, ballerina or nurse so, as I never had ballet or piano lessons, there was only one option. Actually I didn’t really think about the why, I just knew I wanted to work with people.
Where did you train?
The University of Manchester. It was a four-year degree course, with a focus on nursing in the community so I also got my district nursing qualification.
What was your first job?
Staff nurse in haematology at Royal Cornwall Hospital.
What is the trait you least like in yourself and why?
Obsessive compulsive grammar pedantry, followed by a little touch of control freakery. That might be why I enjoy editing the journal, Palliative Medicine.
From whom have you learnt the most in your career?
Patients and their family carers, who have often modelled unbelievable compassion and wisdom in the face of serious illness. They also taught me to respect an individual’s approach to illness.
What advice would you give someone starting out?
Question constantly. Is this the best way to provide care? How can I do this better? Am I meeting my patients’ needs? Think, pause and learn how to use research evidence. This is the crux of providing better, and more compassionate, care.
What keeps you awake?
Very little. As a clinical nurse in the community, I worried about my patients. As an academic, no worries match those - funding deadlines aren’t the same as whether you have managed to ease someone’s pain.
What’s the most satisfying part of your job?
Sharing my enthusiasm for generating and using knowledge to improve care. I moved into research to help make a difference through research guiding practice. Researchers don’t want to be in ivory towers, we want to be at the coalface, just in a different way.
What’s your proudest achievement?
My children say they will disown me if I don’t say they are. Some advantages there maybe? I have four and am certainly proud of them and the fact that I have managed to combine a career and parenthood.
I don’t buy into the rhetoric that compassionate care doesn’t require an enquiring mind or a robust education
What job would you like to be doing in five years?
This one. Research in palliative and end-of-life care is emergent and underfunded compared with other healthcare fields so there are sufficient unanswered questions to keep me going to retirement and beyond.
What do you think makes a good nurse?
Brains. I don’t buy into the rhetoric that compassionate care doesn’t require an enquiring mind or a robust ongoing education. I want to be cared for by nurses who think about what they are doing, why, and how to make it better.
What would your ideal weekend involve?
Getting outdoors with my family or spending some time with my husband that doesn’t involve washing, washing up or tidying the house, then flopping in front of a film with the kids.
If you could spend an hour with someone, who would it be?
It would be fascinating to experience a different era. So it would be in the company of someone “ordinary” living in Elizabethan England.