We talk to Elaine Maxwell, assistant director at the Health Foundation, who started her nurse training in 1976.
Why did you become a nurse?
I probably did it because my mother was a nurse rather than because I had thought about it.
Where did you train?
University College Hospital, London.
What was your first job?
Staff nurse at UCH.
What trait do you least like in yourself and why?
Impatience because I could probably be more effective if I just waited a little longer.
From whom have you learnt most in your nursing career?
Mary Sare, the sister on the ward where I had my first staff nurse job. She exhibited exemplary clinical leadership. Each morning, she would spend five minutes of protected time with every single patient and was truly patient centred. She did not allocate herself a group of patients but knew everything that was going on with all the patients at any time. She considered everything that happened on the ward to be her responsibility and was a major source of advice and support for junior doctors as well as nurses.
What advice would you give someone starting out?
Read Virginia Henderson’s definition of nursing from the International Council of Nurses 1960.
What’s the most satisfying part of your job?
Anything that appears to have made a real change in practice.
What’s your proudest achievement?
Qualifying as a staff nurse. I have other qualifications and had a range of jobs since then but nothing ever beats that initial pride in qualifying and getting to wear the staff nurse belt.
What do you think will change nursing in the next decade?
The rise in people with multiple long-term conditions will mean that most nurses in and outside hospital will have to work across specialties and have expertise in diabetes, respiratory disease and neurological conditions.
What would you have done if you hadn’t become a nurse?
I probably would have enjoyed being a lawyer.
I would like to find a way of describing exactly what nurses do so nursing is valued and there are enough nurses to do it all
What job would you like to be doing in five years?
One of the nice things is to wait and see what opportunities arise. Something useful and interesting.
What makes a good nurse?
Someone prepared to do whatever is needed for their patient, rather than someone who thinks certain tasks should be passed to someone else.
If you could change one thing in healthcare, what would it be?
Find a way of describing exactly what nurses do so nursing is valued and there are enough nurses to do it all. In 1859, Florence Nightingale wrote “the elements of nursing are all but unknown” and they are still unknown to too many people in healthcare.
What is your ideal weekend?
Riding a horse through beautiful scenery.
If you could spend an hour with someone, who would it be?
Mary Woolstonecraft, who wrote Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792, which articulated how women were equal to men but did not appear to be so, as they were less valued and less educated. I would like to ask her how she challenged the system to pave the way for other female radicals including Florence Nightingale.