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60 seconds with...Neil Withnell

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We talk to Neil Withnell, senior lecturer in mental health nursing at the University of Salford, who has been a nurse for 29 years.

Why did you become a nurse?

When I considered career options at school, I always saw nursing as a respected profession. I was interested in human interaction and I felt mental health nursing would be challenging and rewarding.

Where did you train?

Oldham and District General Hospital, in a small school of nursing. There were six of us.

What was your first job?

Staff nurse on a 30-bed, mixed-sex, acute admissions ward, housed in a labyrinthine Victorian building.

What is the trait you least like in yourself and why?

I have a strong work ethic and this often means I compromise my time for other things.

From whom have you learnt the most in your career?

I have worked with many great nurses but have probably learnt the most from patients.

What advice would you give someone starting out?

In these challenging times, my advice would be to focus on patient care and maintain your professional integrity as a clinician at all times. You are there to provide the best care you possibly can for vulnerable people.

What keeps you awake?

I am able to relax and tend to sleep well, although I often worry about the difficulties that students discuss with me. Students’ personal issues can be worrying because I often have no control over these and it can be frustrating if their plans of becoming a nurse become jeopardised. Academic and practice issues are easier to support and resolve.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

I enjoy seeing students develop during training and it is rewarding to see them working on or even in charge of a ward when I visit practice.

What is your proudest achievement?

I am proud of many things, but will have to say writing a book and seeing it published in 2012.

A good mental health nurse can help somebody to develop and understand their illness without becoming defined by it

What do you think will change nursing in the next decade?

Funding will be an issue as will technology and moves to paper-free systems. I feel public support and respect for the profession will continue to be strong and this will influence decision-making around how the profession develops.

What would you have done if you hadn’t become a nurse?

I would have liked to have been a professional cricketer; I had trials but didn’t quite make it.

What job would you like to be doing in five years?

I enjoy my job and hope to be in education but with more time in clinical practice.

What makes a good nurse?

A mental health nurse needs finely honed communication skills and a genuine interest in and respect for individuals. A good mental health nurse can help somebody to develop and understand their illness without becoming defined by it.

If you could change one thing in healthcare, what would it be?

I would reduce paperwork to free up the time that nurses could spend with patients.

What is your ideal weekend?

A long (sunny) bike ride on the Saturday, with a good film in the evening. A relaxing Sunday with family would be perfect.

If you could spend an hour with someone, who would it be?

Sir Bradley Wiggins - he has done so much for British cycling.

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