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'I’m a bit sad to admit much of my inspiration and learning has been from doctors as opposed to nurses'


We talk to Gail South, respiratory nurse consultant and clinical lead at BreathingSpace, a nurse-led respiratory disease unit at Rotherham Foundation Trust. She has been a nurse for 32 years.

Why did you decide to become a nurse?

While studying for a degree in English literature in Edinburgh, I worked as an auxiliary nurse and realised that some of the smallest things can make a difference. One of my patients was a director of nursing (I didn’t realise this) and suggested I became a nurse - so I did.

Where did you train?

Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

What was your first job?

I started midwifery training on completion of nurse training so my first job was as a midwife.

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

I can doubt my ability to do things even when I’m convinced it’s the right thing to do.

Whom have you learnt most from in your career and why?

I’m a bit sad to admit much of my inspiration and learning has been from doctors as opposed to nurses. They have given me the confidence to push back boundaries when the nursing establishment/organisations seemed to be trying to hold me back. Edwin Chilvers and Stephen Langan are two doctors who encouraged me to challenge my academic ability and the clinical boundaries of my nursing practice.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

That inpatients or outpatients at BreathingSpace receive care from a team - support workers to nurses and therapists - who have specialist knowledge and skills from the moment they arrive to the time they leave.

What’s your proudest achievement?

Proof of concept - that truly nurse-led and nurse-delivered services provide clinical excellence and are cost effective.

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

A librarian. But I have never regretted my decision and would do the same if I was starting out again…. But I think my working life would have been much easier as a doctor.

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

The same but with an increased capacity to undertake high-quality research.

What makes a good nurse?

A person who keeps their patient as their central focus while having the energy to continually question and change the organisational structure of education, training and healthcare delivery.

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

Having an infrastructure to nurse education so it would be as easy to explain to a first-year student nurse how to become a nurse consultant as it is to explain to a first-year medical student how to become a medical consultant.

If you could spend an hour in someone’s company, who would it be and why?

I would love to meet Nelson Mandela and listen as he explained how to remain passionate about your beliefs even under the most intensely difficult circumstances.


Readers' comments (3)

  • Perhaps the role of specialist nurses sometimes gravitate to medicine and by virtue of developing a role as a specialist nurse you are more likely to learn more for doctors. After all many specialist roles have developed to support doctors.

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  • I have learnt more through my work as a staff nurse in the Out-Patients department than anywhere else. Listening to doctors and their teaching of medical students is immensely informative. It also makes you realise how much you do know when talking to trainee doctors.

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  • Alot of my learning over the course of my pre-registration nursing degree has been via consultant and specialist nurses. Hopefully this is a turning tide and future nurses can say the same.

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