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'It pays to be calm, logical and think about why the person is distressed'

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We talk to Sarah Richardson, charge nurse at the psychiatric intensive care unit (PICU), Kingsley Green, Hertfordshire.

Sarah Richardson

Why did you decide to become a nurse?

It runs in the family. My mum, auntie and two grandmothers were all nurses. I grew up hearing about nursing but didn’t consider it as a career until later in life.

Where did you train?

University of Hertfordshire

What was your first job in nursing?

The PICU. I’ve been here 12 years and am the second longest serving member of staff. It’s tough but rewarding.

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

My mother. She has worked in mental health for more than 30 years and has seen it all. She taught me the importance of patience and keeping calm.

We have our moments in the PICU. Service users can be very agitated when they arrive, especially if they have been restrained by the police. It pays to be calm, logical and think about why the person is distressed and what you can do to ease the situation.

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

Don’t take work home. I enjoy working in the PICU but it can be a stressful environment and you have to learn to balance your job with knowing you have done your best for someone in the circumstances.

What keeps you awake at night?

I have three young children. I never have trouble sleeping

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

People can come into the unit day or night and the difference between when they arrive and leave makes me feel I have made a difference. Most people end up here because they haven’t taken their medication and there is a definite increase in drug-related admissions. We get a fair amount of readmissions and you build a relationship with those patients.

What’s your proudest achievement?

The little things count. It’s nice when people say thank you. Someone came back to the unit recently with a tin of biscuits to thank us. It makes me proud to know I’ve helped someone when they really needed it.

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

Worked in the probation service.

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

I’m close to the ceiling of my profession without going into management. I came into nursing to have that contact with people and I want to keep that. We work in a new purpose-built unit, which is a huge improvement on our former location in a hospital.

What do you think makes a good nurse?

Compassion and an interest in what you do. The PICU felt the right fit for me. It’s important as a student nurse to take your time and find an area of work that interests you.

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

We need more beds in mental health. The general consensus is to reduce the number of beds but we see the reality of that thinking in the PICU. Demand is always high and people in crisis need somewhere to go quickly and conveniently.

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