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How has nursing changed since you qualified?

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Marie Curie’s Director of Nursing, Dee Sissons, looks back at the changes she’s witnessed since qualifying particularly within end-of-life care

I really can’t believe that I’ve just celebrated my fourth decade of nursing.

The cliché ‘I remember my first day as if it were yesterday’ is so true. I was part of the first class to wear the new national uniform and I secretly coveted the apron linen hat and starched cuffs. I remember feeling proud, anxious, ambitious and really excited for the future.

Four decades later, I’m still proud to be a nurse and ambitious and excited for the future as I embark on my Professional Doctorate journey.

”It was no surprise to those around me that I chose to work with people approaching the end of life”

It was no surprise to those around me that I chose to work with people approaching the end of life. As a hospital nurse I was drawn to caring for people who were dying and in the early 1980s, I started working as a ward sister at an independent hospice.

At that time I was dreaming about being a clinical nurse specialist - now I am extremely privileged to work for Marie Curie as the Director of Nursing with nurses committed to making a difference to people living with a terminal illness.

”When I started out in nursing, nurses didn’t really talk to patients about dying”

When I started out in nursing, nurses didn’t really talk to patients about dying. It was always seen as the doctor’s role and the tradition and custom was to speak to the relatives first.

Although we need to be more confident about our conversations with people at the end of life, nurses have become more aware of the role of communication in providing high quality care for patients, their families and loved ones.

When I started as a staff-nurse, I worked on a nightingale ward. All of the patients could be seen through a very large office window and it wasn’t uncommon to have ‘mixed sex wards’.

Caring for patients in bays and single room accommodation has its own challenges around staffing models and nurse visibility.

However, in the main, the architecture of our wards take much more account of the risk of infection, patient dignity and the therapeutic environment.

”We did face challenges back then, just different ones to those we face now”

We did face challenges back then, just different ones to those we face now of the global shortage of nursing, financial pressures and the changing health needs of an ageing population (I am a baby-boomer).

These challenges bring real opportunities to build better working partnerships and nurses have a great history of working in inter-disciplinary teams.

Nurses can help break down the artificial boundaries between primary and secondary care, the acute and independent sector, and health and social care as well as being independent, entrepreneurial practitioners.

”Nurses can help break down the artificial boundaries between primary and secondary care”

My legacy, if I could leave one, would be that our new generation of nurses are given the time to develop the special bond between patients and families that people value the most, particularly those who are approaching the end of their life.

While I’m being nostalgic, this year also marks the 30th anniversary of the Great Daffodil Appeal - the charity’s biggest annual fundraising campaign in March when people make a donation in return for a daffodil pin.

All money raised helps us provide care and support for people living with a terminal illness and their loved ones.

Back in 1986 when the Great Daffodil Appeal launched, Marie Curie cared for 163 people at home. Last year we cared for 40,000 people at home and in our hospices.

Our ambition is to reach more people who are living with a terminal illness. If you would like to find out more or are interested in working for us, please visit: https://www.mariecurie.org.uk/who

Dee Sissons, Director of Nursing, Marie Curie

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Put it like this.....

    I went too bed with lights out with the senior nurse head count at 9pm.
    we wore cuffs out of doors and frills indoors.
    Mandatory stockings issued by store-frilly starched hats and aprons and no showing your knees,hair on our collar,short nails and no make up.Permission to get married by matron was in and she did not approve of this distraction.
    Weekend cleaning and polishing taps with surgical spirit was intact mandatory and washing the walls and floors.
    Thats before we get onto training !

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