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'Patients feel more comfortable talking about body image concerns with a nurse'

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Being a successful leader might pull you away from patients but Nuala Close found the opposite is true

Nuala Close

It is commonly thought that a nurse in the most senior position in a hospital directs and guides care from an office. However, Nuala Close, matron at The London Clinic, believes interacting with patients daily is what helped her nursing team to excel.

Ms Close had not expected to serve as the chief nurse in a private-sector hospital but her duties as matron at the clinic have given her the chance to adopt what she considers to be a more traditional role in nursing - albeit in a highly technical environment where new techniques and treatments are standard.

“Being able to integrate traditional nursing values, while operating in a highly specialised and complex environment, is the most exciting and rewarding part of my role,” she says.

She was aware of the possibly controversial aspects of moving into the private sector but found it was a transition she was prepared to make due to the values she shared with those at The London Clinic. As she explains: “It was easier on my conscience because I was coming to a charity rather than a large conglomerate; the money is reinvested into patient care, equipment and new techniques.

“When I got to The London Clinic, I saw it was able to offer treatments I had hoped to offer in my role as lead cancer nurse in the NHS, such as gated rapid arc radiotherapy. Not only can we offer the treatment here but we’ve also taught staff in NHS hospitals how to implement it so it doesn’t just benefit patients at The London Clinic, but will impact on the patients I would have cared for in the NHS.”

The techniques Ms Close employs at The London Clinic are aligned with those used in a more traditional matron role. Her previous jobs exposed her to all aspects of cancer and how it affects those diagnosed. She began to consider the less-discussed impact of cancer, such as body image and sexuality insecurities after treatment.

“Body image is all about how people feel about themselves and how they feel they are perceived by others. They may not feel like the same person if they lose a breast, can’t have children, or lose their hair,” she explains.

Ms Close still lectures on these subjects to bring them to the fore of health professionals’ minds. In these instances, she finds patients feel more comfortable talking about body image concerns with a nurse.

“Nurses need to be hands on and it goes back to caring and understanding the whole patient; each patient will have their own individual story. Only those who work directly with the patient will get to know and understand their story. That’s why I love what I get to do in my role as matron at The London Clinic.”

Ms Close has found that, sometimes, the path you never expected to take is the one meant for you all along. She says when she walked into her interview with the chief executive of the clinic she had a pre-conception about the position but she left thinking: “I have to have that job - I want to be able to make a real difference to the lives of patients and support my staff in achieving this.”

Her transition from the NHS to the private sector was supported by her values - traditional nursing care that is entirely patient centred.

When choosing the right job in the health profession, Ms Close advises finding a team that shares your values. “In this hospital, what we do is scary - transplants, big intensive care cases - it’s not an easy option. What makes it work so well is our staff, the staff:patient ratio and having staff and leaders who get along so well. You could work in the most beautiful environment but it’s nothing without great leadership”.

With the responsibility that comes with overseeing the clinic’s staff and patients, it is easy to wonder how Ms Close manages it all. “Everyone here is so enthusiastic and hardworking, and that’s what it comes down to. If you have a great team around you, can do good a job by supporting patients and their families and, at the end of the day, know you have done all you can, you’re on the right path.”

Emma Bleznak

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