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'At seven years old I knew what a theatre set-up and sluice room looked like'

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We talk to Janice Smyth, director of the Royal College of Nursing in Northern Ireland, who this year celebrated 40 years as a member of the nursing profession.

Nt janice smyth

Why did you decide to become a nurse?

When I was seven years old I was nursed in an adult ward as an inpatient for six days. I was taken out of the hospital by a 96-year-old female patient to go to mass and was told off, to put it mildly, by a red-headed ward sister who retrieved both of us at a traffic light junction and returned us to the ward.

The same old friend and I toured the hospital corridors via what I realised in later years to be the sluice room and operating theatres. I observed curtains on wheels being put between me and the lady in the bed beside me, nurses disappearing in behind them every day and no talking – only whispering – around this lady and little eye contact.

So at seven years old I knew what a theatre set-up and sluice room looked like, learned that it was not a good idea to have children in adult wards, experienced the devastating effects of dementia and mastectomy and learned that non-verbal communication was as important, if not more so, than verbal communication!

Where did you train?

Whiteabbey Hospital, near Belfast, and the Northern Area College of Nursing.

What was your first job in nursing?

As an enrolled nurse in a psychiatric unit.

From whom have you learnt the most in your nursing career and why?

I worked on a medical ward in Belfast City Hospital with two ward sisters who were ahead of their time. Discharge planning started when patients were admitted, multi-disciplinary meetings involving patients and their families were a matter of course and there were open visiting hours. They shared a strong vision focused on patient’s care, experience and outcomes and understood the relationship between leadership, culture, staff morale and the care of patients. There was a balance between challenge and support and it was clear that there were high expectations of staff who rose to that challenge and excelled.

What advice would you give someone starting out in the profession?

Nursing is a very rewarding but challenging profession but never lose sight of the fact that, as a nurse, first and foremost your duty of care is to the patient

What keeps you awake at night?

Very little!

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

Being in a position where I can support others to succeed.

What’s your proudest achievement?

Accepting the freedom of the city of Belfast on behalf of nurses.

What do you think is likely to change nursing in the next decade?

An acceptance of the contribution of nursing to the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients.

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

I love my job, our work is not finished here and I cannot see myself doing anything else.

What do you think makes a good nurse?

A passion to care for others and in today’s health and social care system the ability to speak up and speak out when it is in the best interest of patients.

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

Get rid of the “knowing the cost of everything and value of nothing” culture.

What would your ideal weekend involve?

Spending time in the company of family and close friends.

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