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'Get a good mentor and use their experience to support your learning'

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We speak to the deputy director of nursing and clinical standards at Brent Community Services, Nola Ishmael, who qualified as a nurse in 1972.

Why did you decide to become a nurse?

My best friend wrote to me in Barbados and told me what a great life she was having in England. At the time I was a primary school teacher.

Where did you train?

The Whittington Hospital, north London.

What was your first job in nursing?

Staff nurse on a high dependency unit at the Miller Hospital, south east London.

What is the trait you least like in yourself and why?

My tendency to overwork.

Whom have you learnt most from in your nursing career and why?

I learnt much from Dame Yvonne Moores. She told me why nurses needed to be influential in policy development and that “a good example beats 10 pages of rhetoric”. What advice would you give someone starting out in the profession?

Get a good mentor and use their experience to support your learning.

What’s the most satisfying part of your job?

Seeing how ward staff are making the patient experience a good one by ensuring effectiveness, safety and quality matters. Clinical staff are producing evidence-based reports to inform our quality accounts.

What is your proudest achievement?

I have a few: working for the Department of Health, and recognition in the form of my OBE in 2000 for services to nursing; an honorary doctorate by the University of Central England, now the University of Birmingham; the votes that Nursing Times readers gave that saw me become 5th most influential nurse in the last 60 years; and the inclusion of my portrait in the ‘A Picture of Health’ exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. I was included with some of the most illustrious people who have contributed to healthcare in the 20th century. That was an awesome moment.

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

A reporter who travels.

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

Coaching and mentoring up and coming leaders in the NHS.

What do you think makes a good nurse?

A passion for learning, sensitivity to others’ needs and the ability to adapt to change.

What would your ideal weekend involve?

Going to a ball and dancing to my favourite tunes. This would be followed by a lazy Sunday reading the newspapers and cooking jerk chicken with rice and peas, and a wicked avocado salad for my children.

If you could spend an hour in someone’s company, who would it be and why?

The new chief nursing officer for England. I would ask what new initiatives she or he may have to support black and minority ethnic nurses to reach higher heights in the NHS.

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