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'I didn't go into nursing to win awards'

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We talk to June Thompson, a Nursing Times Award winner, about her legacy in continence care.

june thompson

june thompson

At a very young age, June Thompson found herself uninterested and disenchanted with her work. “At the beginning, I was given a job in the middle of nowhere working in a kitchen, and I have never been so unhappy,” she explains. But down this rough path and through her own self-reliance, Ms Thompson found nursing. “I had to do something worthwhile with my life, and no one was going to give it to me,” she says. “So, I went to school, and chose nursing. There was no one to give me advice.”

Ms Thompson has fulfilled many roles during her 49-year career. She has been a nurse, an innovator, and a Nursing Times Award winner. However, even as her career had progressed, Ms Thompson has brought the same balanced mix of determination and softness to all that she’s done.

“I thought I would enjoy being with people who needed some care”

Starting at 16 years old, Ms Thompson has worked in the NHS until her retirement. “I thought I would enjoy working with people who needed care,” she says on her decision to move into nursing. “I’ve always had a caring nature, so nursing felt right for me.”

One of Ms Thompson’s first posts was as a specialist in bladder and bowel care. The workload is now spread between 20 individuals, but was managed only by Ms Thompson at the time.

When she started, it was all completely new to her. However, Ms Thompson launched into this daunting position without hesitation, she explains, “I started with an absolute blank piece of paper. But I realised, to run a service, I had to think like someone who would run a service. So, I had to research and put myself into that role”.

Some years later, Ms Thompson saw her chance to alter the face of continence care, by way of computer technology – the cutting-edge of innovation at the time.

She admits that, “Computers were known then but they weren’t used in actual nursing”.

Her goal was to incorporate computers into the nursing profession as a tool to help with documentation and follow-up care.

“It was a moving experience. I didn’t go into nursing to get awards”

This work inspired Ms Thompson to use technology to help streamline many aspects of continence care. She developed ground-breaking software with this aim in mind, which earned her a Nursing Times award in 1990. On her win she notes, “It was a moving experience. I didn’t go into nursing to get awards. [But,] the award was totally a highlight”.

After her win, Ms Thompson started on her master’s project which focused on a patient-led service.

“It allowed patients with chronic illnesses – mostly patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) – to self-report their symptoms, especially those related to continence,” she explains.

“Even though these programmes take an immense amount of time and care, it makes [the patients] feel really valued to have their thoughts listened to by people who didn’t have MS,” Ms Thompson notes. “It had a positive psychological impact.”

“I think one of the biggest things is to listen to patients and not lose that empathy”

This work in patient-led care resulted in her joint reception of an award from the House of Lords.

June Thompson is now looking back on a career that lasted almost half a century. It was varied and extraordinary, and it made a direct impact on continence care.

Such a difference couldn’t have been achieved without her grit and determination, however, the success of Ms Thompson’s career is just as much marked with her tenderness.

In fact, on advice for young nurses, Ms Thompson says, “I just, I think one of the biggest things is to listen to patients and not lose that empathy,” she continues. “The people who are sitting there need a little bit of a love, a little bit of care.”

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