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'I value my registration greatly'

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Leading academic and professional nurse Kath McCourt realised early on in her career the importance of nursing work.

When Kath McCourt received a letter from the Cabinet Office requesting her acceptance of a CBE from the Queen, the first thing she did was double-check the name on the envelope was hers.

It was. Professor McCourt is undoubtedly deserving of the high honour, even if she wasn’t convinced herself. She began her nursing career at 21, which she considers her finest achievement.

“I’m proud to be a nurse,” says Professor McCourt. “I value my registration greatly because I’ve used my nursing career for fantastic things.”

Her early career was spent working in the UK, Germany and the US. Professor McCourt soon developed a passion for critical care and went on to work in the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s cardiothoracic and paediatric intensive care units, acquiring many senior roles. Having worked in academia, practice, advanced practice and teaching, and having held an international nursing role at Northumbria University, Professor McCourt was instrumental in developing the international programmes within its School of Health, Community and Education Studies. Her success and leadership in the roles have led to her current position as Dean of School since 2008.

“I originally wanted to teach people about cardiothoracic care because I enjoyed it so much,” says Professor McCourt. “But then I went back to practising because I missed the patients and the atmosphere. Years later, I went back to lecturing at university. My experiences gained in practice undoubtedly helped inform my teaching and took what I could impart to students to another level.”

Professor McCourt is a Royal College of Nursing council member for the northern region and is the chair of the national governing body. She also chairs the RCN International Committee and was made a Fellow of the RCN in 2008.

Professor McCourt is a leading nurse and is aware of how her practice and teachings impact on those who look to her for guidance. Nursing has taken a few dips recently, where evidence of poor care has surfaced. Professor McCourt is sure leadership will improve, as long as good practice remains a focus.

“Improving nursing leadership is something you don’t just do once, it’s a continuing process of support and development,” she says.

Professor McCourt gets inspiration from her patients and students, especially from her time spent in an intensive care unit, where she helped patients through difficult circumstances in their life.

“It’s difficult but rewarding working with people who are vulnerable,” she says. “If a patient is in cardiothoracic care, they’re most likely going through a crucial time in their lives. Questions like “Will I survive?” are being asked, and these help me realise the importance of what I do.”

But her current work at Northumbria University also kindles her fighting spirit.

“I get as much pleasure at the university when I see my students graduate,” she says. “It’s incredible to know they’re embarking on a wonderful and rewarding career.”

In five years’ time, she hopes to still be involved in the profession on a national and international basis and continue to be involved in shaping the health agenda.

Professor McCourt is one to know about the benefits of a rewarding career. She doesn’t yet know the date for the ceremony at Buckingham Palace, or who recommended her for her lifetime “service to nursing” as the letter indicated.

“The award is very humbling,” says Professor McCourt. “But this is an award to the entire profession of nursing. It represents how you can have a lifetime in nursing and that people appreciate the profession.”

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