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'Nurses underestimate the importance of management and political awareness'

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Bev Critchlow, the Isle of Man’s chief nurse, says her work stays rooted on the wards

The Isle of Man may only be 572 square miles with a population of just over 80,000, but it provides all the interest and career development Bev Critchlow could wish for.

She has been director of nursing and midwifery on the island since 2000. “I saw the director of nursing and midwifery job on the Isle of Man advertised in Nursing Times. I’d always lived in the North West so I was a bit nervous about whether the opportunity was for me,” she says.

“When I met the nursing team and saw how motivated they all were, I was hooked. This, together with a state of the art new hospital, was a brilliant opportunity.”

Ms Critchlow is in charge of a 310-bed hospital. She combines this role with her strategic chief nurse post.

There are more than 1,000 nurses and midwives on the island. Working in a small area has its benefits.

“I am close to the community, our patients and our politicians. They know me and contact me if they have questions or concerns.

“It can be hard to separate the operational and political agendas, but that is my job. I handle every concern about nursing care personally, while working with senior nursing colleagues to determine the strategic professional direction for our island’s nurses and midwives.”

It’s also a community role. “I can’t go to the supermarket without being asked a question or told something when things go well - or not so well,” she says.

She decided to be a nurse early on. “I was pretty accident prone. By the time I was nine, I’d spent a lot of time in hospital so I wanted to be a nurse,” she says.

After qualifying in nursing and in midwifery, she worked in an acute hospital. She was promoted to ward sister and was a nursing officer by the age of 27.

“General management and leaderships skills are invaluable to a nurse,” says Ms Critchlow. “Nurses underestimate the importance of management and political awareness. They need to know about what is influencing the changes they are seeing.”

By the late 1990s, Ms Critchlow was considering her next move: “I couldn’t give up nursing. I decided I wanted to be a director of nursing.”

She surpassed this goal on the Isle of Man. “Nursing in a small community is so different, and so rewarding,” she says. “We don’t struggle to get nurses because the island offers great opportunities.

It is a wonderful place to work and live. We also have pretty attractive terms and conditions and a relocation package for people committed to joining us.”

Ms Critchlow works two days a month on wards to observe, and talks to patients on patient safety walks with the medical director.

“It’s important for me to observe nursing care, to work alongside nurses and monitor standards,” she says. “Making sure that protocols - such as protected mealtimes - are being followed is important, as well as understanding things from staff and patient viewpoints.”

She says years spent understanding politics make her more approachable, not less. “I’m not a boardroom nurse, and neither are any of my nurses,” she says. “If directors of nursing think their role is just a strategic one in the boardroom, they need to think again. Staff want to give me feedback and are keen to show me things when I visit.”

She advocates making small, sustainable changes that make a difference to patients: “My mantra is ‘chip, chip, chip’.”

“We are unrecognisable from where we were 10 years ago. Our hospital is small, but state of the art. We train our own nurses and have an all-degree nurse training programme. We focus on the fundamental aspects of care that make a difference and we love what we do.”

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