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'It felt like children's nursing was where I belonged'

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As she comes to the end of her varied and impactful career, Anne Sweeney, pediatric nurse specialist at Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, ruminates on her start, her legacy, and her plans for the future

Anne Sweeney

anne sweeney

Twenty years into her career, Anne Sweeney decided to stop nursing and go into the restaurant business. “I was a senior sister on a diabetes ward, which closed during cutbacks,” explains Ms Sweeney. “I had always wanted to run a coffee shop, and after my ward closed I decided to.”

But after getting her coffee shop on its feet, Ms Sweeney found her way back into nursing where she became the first Roald Dahl nurse and the first ever nurse specialist on pediatric epilepsy. “I missed it. At heart, I’m a nurse,” Ms Sweeney says, explaining her drive to find her way back to the NHS. Ms Sweeney is now close to retirement and will be leaving her legacy of firsts behind her.

On her first 20-or-so years in the NHS, pre-coffee shop, Ms Sweeney explains, “I worked as a staff nurse in a women’s hospital and as a midwife. Then, I started with children’s nursing, and that was always my favourite. It felt like it was where I belonged.” When she returned to nursing, Ms Sweeney once again found herself on a pediatric ward.

In fact, her first role on returning to nursing was a part-time research position on Alder Hey’s team. Ms Sweeney worked on a pediatric febrile convulsion study, which eased her back into pediatrics and also peaked her interest in epilepsy care. “What I love about epilepsy nursing is that we are always learning and the care is always getting better,” she explains.

“I just kept wondering, where do these parents go when they have questions?”

In stride, however, Ms Sweeney also admits that working on the febrile convulsion study showed her a gap in epilepsy care that needed filling. “I was working on the study, and I just kept wondering, where do these parents go when they have questions?” she asks.

It was not long until Ms Sweeney was presented with an opportunity to fill these gaps when she was nominated to become a nurse specialist through the Roald Dahl Foundation. At first, Ms Sweeney was apprehensive.

But after researching the role and realising its potential and the lack of nurse specialists in pediatric epilepsy, Ms Sweeney accepted the role in the hope she could fill gaps and facilitate changes. “I thought ‘there needs to be someone here for these families’. And it turns out, the nurse specialist role could fill that space,” she says.

“Epilepsy care is about making sure patients aren’t basing their life decisions on hearsay, but instead basing their decisions on facts”

In her first couple of years as a nurse specialist, Ms Sweeney spent a lot of time listening to what epilepsy patients need and what care their families want from their nurses and nurse specialists. From there she began to disseminate knowledge, via pamphlets or just conversation, to try and help young people with epilepsy and their families have their questions answered. “Information is power at the end of the day,” she says. “[Epilepsy care] is about teaching patients and letting them know how and when they can live a more ‘normal’ life. It’s about making sure they aren’t basing their life decisions on hearsay, but instead basing their decisions on facts.”

Now, Ms Sweeney is reaching the end of her career which has been devoted to answering questions and supporting children and families in its latter half. “I’ve had a fantastic career that has spanned 46 years and seen a lot of changes,” she says. “[Even so,] I’ve learned that there a lot more needs, we have moved very far, but there is still more to do.”

For these reasons, Ms Sweeny does not plan on stopping her work with epilepsy care entirely with her retirement. “I like new things, I like challenges. I hope to help at the Brain Charity after I retire. I’d like to teach and learn from them.

“I’ve had a fantastic career that has spanned 46 years and seen a lot of changes”

“And I want to stay involved with the Roald Dahl’s Marvelous Children’s Charity, it’s fantastic. My post would not have come into being without them. They are very forward thinking.”

Although Ms Sweeney’s coffee shop would have been warm and inviting – much like her wards have been – the nursing profession is lucky to have had her work to educate patients and their families on epilepsy. And even luckier to have her continue to do so.

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