Francesca Burchall discusses her varied career in nursing and passion for her current role as a nurse analyst
“It was intense. There were days at sea when you didn’t have ports to call at and people would queue outside the hospital… Three people died while I was on the ship,” says Francesca Burchall, remembering her time serving around 750 passengers and 250 crew as a nurse on a cruise liner traversing the Mediterranean. Conveniently, Ms Burchall’s time at sea, sailing from port to port, exploring the globe, also serves as a metaphor for her lengthy and varied career.
Since becoming a nurse 27 years ago, she has worked as a surgical nurse, district nurse, practice nurse, nurse specialist on a urology ward, sales rep for several medical companies, sales manager for a coagulation company and, of course, a cruise ship nurse.
”There were days at sea when you didn’t have ports to call at and people would queue outside the hospital”
“Don’t pigeonhole yourself,” she advises new nurses. “Utilise your nursing qualification to your advantage. Use it for different things.” Ms Burchall thinks there is a tendency among many nurses, once they have qualified, to stick to work on a ward or in a specialty, and that’s it – “but you can progress so much by doing different things. Your RGN is a stepping stone to somewhere else.”
This year she started a new role as a nurse analyst on the medical negligence team at Fletchers Solicitors, a job she believes many nurses could learn from. She tells me the best way to describe her role is as a ‘medical detective’. “I review the cases, alongside senior solicitors, and we pass on our medical knowledge of whether there’s a case or not – whether negligence took place. We look at case notes from start to finish. It can be quite lengthy and in depth, but it’s very interesting.”
“Utilise your nursing qualification to your advantage. Use it for different things.”
The cases Ms Burchall investigates can regard surgical error, incorrect diagnoses and more, and can be against a hospital, GP, pharmacist, optician – any health department. The job has been an eye-opener for Ms Burchall in terms of clinical practice and seeing how simple things, such as communication, can have huge ramifications.
“It would be a sensible part of training for nurses to understand negligence,” she says. “How a sequence of events can impact on a patient and their family. It would be good practice to see how medical negligence is evolving and how healthcare staff can improve themselves.”
Two of the most memorable moments in Ms Burchall’s career occurred when she was working in a general practice a couple of years ago. Shortly after her annual CPR training, two people, within a few months, collapsed in the waiting room and needed to be resuscitated. “It was me and the same doctor each time, and we got them back. I remember the paramedics saying on the second occasion, ‘To revive one person is rare; to revive two is outstanding’… It became a running joke in the practice – ‘If anyone collapses, just ring Francesca’.”
“It would be a sensible part of training for nurses to understand negligence,”
On another occasion she noticed an odd-looking lesion on a patient’s leg, and advised her to see a GP, who referred her to a dermatologist. The lesion turned out to be basal cell carcinoma and the patient had to have urgent treatment. “All your training is worthwhile for situations like that,” says Ms Burchall.
Making a difference is clearly important to Ms Burchall. She misses the hands-on care in her new role, but still feels she is able affect clinical care as a nurse analyst by highlighting malpractice and getting the right outcome for clients. However, she stresses that others need to help. “We hear about the same cases again and again… If departments were funded and staffed properly, and all inquiries were taken heed of, we would avoid that.”